In 13 years of living in Meriden, I always thought the water tasted lousy, and smelled lousy too. Run the water in the bathroom sink and within a few seconds you could smell chlorine. Even at a restaurant where I loved the food, I’d always ask for bottled water because the complimentary Silver City tap water tasted so bad.
This is not a scientific analysis, of course, but the city’s recent mailing of letters notifying more than 17,000 customers that between January and March their water had been over the established limit for total haloacetic acids (which include chlorine) has stirred up quite a fuss.
Residents are naturally worried for the health of people and pets, and wonder why they weren’t notified sooner. Good question.
On the other hand, it seems to me than when your tap water smells like chlorine, you don’t need a guy in a white lab coat to tell you that’s a problem.
On the other hand, the purpose of the chlorine is to kill bacteria, and even short-term spikes in bacteria could cause a major health crisis, similar to the current E coli scare involving romaine lettuce.
On the other hand, the water in question tested at between 0.066 and 0.062 milligrams per liter, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standard is 0.060 milligrams per liter. In scientific terms, I’d call that a smidge. Not something to be ignored, but we’ve been assured that the problem occurred only while the Evansville Avenue treatment plant was shut down, that the level is now well below the limit, and that only long-term exposure to elevated chlorine levels could cause a health problem.
On the other hand, how the hell does the EPA, or anyone else, know what the “safe” levels are for scores of chemicals if they’re in water that people have been drinking and cooking with for decades, even a lifetime? They can’t very well have fed this stuff to human guinea pigs in long-term studies, so who’s to say how much 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane or 1,1,1-Trichloroethane or 1,2,3-Trichloropropane a person can “safely” ingest over the years?
Who’s to say that Aunt Josephine’s cancer wasn’t caused by tiny amounts of Bromobenzene or Chlorodifluoromethane or Hexachlorobenzene or Monochlorobenzene that were baked into her macaroni-and-cheese casseroles since World War II? And could it be that the cat is sick because there have been traces of Perfluorobutane in her water all this time?
(None of those substances have been found in Meriden’s water. Whew!)
It’s scary, yes, but it’s also part of modern life, especially in a post-industrial area like this.
All we can really do, seems to me, is trust (but verify!) that our local, state and federal environmental folks are doing their jobs — enforcing whatever standards we have, on the reasonable belief that all contaminants in our water are likely to be bad for us, and that therefore not enforcing the standards is unacceptable.
Am I saying we should trust Mr. Pruitt, who runs the EPA but wants to roll back the rules on water pollution and is also being sued by 17 states because he wants to gut air pollution standards as well?
No. We’ve got to watch that guy.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.