Sunday, March 2, 2014

Our Water is Safe Now

(2-Day Diet progress at end of post)

I believe our tap water is now safe. Personally, I’ve been using the water to bathe since the “do not use” order was lifted. I didn’t drink it when it had the odor of licorice, but have since late January. I’ve had no adverse reactions.

At a Congressional committee hearing in Charleston on February 10, none of our top health or environment officials would say the water is safe. They were following the lead of scientists at the Center for Disease Control, who say they expect no adverse health effects if the level of crude MCHM in water is below one part per million, but they do not use the word safe. Senators Shelly Moore Capito and Joe Manchin both pressed officials on whether they would call it safe. Senator Rockefeller said in a television interview that he wouldn’t drink the water if you paid him. Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Kanawha Charleston Health Department, who has been a champion in calling for medical monitoring and more transparency, has suggested that because the Safe Drinking Water Act uses the word safe, the CDC should as well.

But politicians wrote the Safe Drinking Water Act, not scientists. If scientists had written it they might have called it the Reduced Risk Drinking Water Act. Why don’t scientists use the word safe? The first definition for safe in Merrium-Webster online is “free from harm or risk.” Are we ever 100% free from harm or risk? Studies have found bottled water no safer than tap water. A small elevated risk of bladder cancer may exist from drinking tap water over the course of a lifetime. Most of us put these small risks aside. After all, the big picture is that people are living longer and healthier lives.

I am not a scientist, but in 25 years teaching elementary school I learned to simplify complicated ideas into easily understandable chunks. This is how I would answer a curious elementary school student asking, “Mr. Epstein, is the water safe?” The risk of the water is so small that it is now safe for any use including drinking for almost everyone.

“How small is the risk?”  Because of how little is actually known about this chemical, scientists can’t say exactly. However, because the scientists at CDC have studied other chemicals like this, both more harmful and less harmful, their expert opinion based on available information is that it isn’t a risk to health if you drink a normal amount of water and if the level of the chemical in the water is beneath the level of 1 part per million in water.

“How did they come up with the safe level?” Through some standard tests on animals that had been made on the main chemical present in the spill, they determined a level below which no harmful health effects were found. They then set a screening level, which I’ll call the safe level, 1,000 times less than that to account for various things they didn’t have information about; such as that it hadn’t had human testing.

“How sure are the CDC scientists that it’s safe now?” Very confident. The levels at the water company have been at non-detectable since about a week after the spill. That meant that either there was none of the chemical in the water or it was less than 10 parts per billion (ppb), 100 times less than the safe level. In recent weeks, using a more exact test, they have found the levels in most of the nine county area to be below 2 ppb or 500 times below the safe level.

“Why did it smell after they said it was usable?” Some people can detect the smell even down to 1 ppb.

“I haven’t smelled it for awhile. Does that mean there is none of the chemical in the water anymore?” It is likely below 2 ppb or not present.

I understand why the Governor decided to allay fears by starting home testing, but mark my words, those conducting the testing will not likely declare the water safe, even if they find no significant elevated levels of harmful chemicals. It will be up to our leaders, Governor Tomblin, Senators Manchin and Rockefeller, Congresswoman Capito and public health officials to show some courage and leadership and declare the water safe and that they will do everything in their power to keep it safe. They need to unmercifully prosecute those who contaminated the water, pass and enforce more stringent laws and regulations, and make sure that water companies have alternate sources of water for emergencies. If there is a next time, we might not be so “lucky.” It might be a highly toxic substance entering the system and causing immediate and tragic health effects.

My 2-Day Diet Progress Week 17: 
Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 39 in.
Weight end of week 17:  186 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week:  no change
Total Gain/Loss:  -23 lbs.

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