Digital Cable But No Clean Water?

September 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm 7 comments

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

Perhaps you may have read last Sunday’s New York Times lead article by Charles Duhigg: Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering. For those who did not, the article focused on the human anguish that results from pollutants in our waters.  The abuse is caused by direct violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Keep in mind, the article did not focus on third world countries, but here in the US.  Senior Banking Accountant, West Virginia resident Jennifer Hall-Massey’s family is profiled:

“Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

‘How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?’ said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.”


Ryan Massey, 7, shows his caps. Dentists near Charleston, W.Va., say pollutants in drinking water have damaged residents’ teeth. Nationwide, polluters have violated the Clean Water Act more than 500,000 times. Photo taken by Damon Winter of the New York Times.

The article continues to disclose violation records obtained from not only the EPA but from State records. A multitude of violations were compiled into a fascinating and frightening national water pollution database. I encourage you to visit the database link, put in your zip code and hold on to your seats!

The blatant lack of fines or punishment to violators is unconscionable.  This past January I wrote a BLOG about outgoing President Bush’s midnight environmental legislation. Specifically stated, President Bush made sure that the coal industry had no problems depositing their waste from mountaintop mining into streams and valleys. Also, he circumvented the Clean Water Act and dismissed EPA leaders dissents. While it would be almost too easy to blame his administration and outgoing policies for today’s environmental misery, the New York Times article clearly distributes the blame to state agencies as well. Federal and State agencies need to step up.

As Duhigg writes: research shows that an estimated 1 in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.

Someone needs to be held accountable. Remember this next time you take a drink of water.

What do you think?

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Entry filed under: Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Issues, Environmental Issues. Tags: .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. aepcentral  |  October 18, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks everyone for your comments. The article and investigation has stirred much discussion.

  • 2. Lee  |  September 25, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I read this article in another publication. This is a dangerous article in that is disrupts the public’s confidence in the US potable water system. The US has the cleanest and safest water in the world. I am not excusing the people affected by the article. There will always be violators. Most states, including my own require publishing consumer confidence reports that list the constituents in the drinking water and how it compares to the MCL set by the EPA. I drink tap water and will continue to drink tap water. I have the utmost confidence in the water the City of Springfield puts out.

    • 3. fern  |  September 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

      So what do you suggest? That we just don’t talk about it?

      If people react like they should, demanding to know what is in their water… and that includes what is in their bottle water (answer: same as in your tap + BPA + phthalates), maybe we would be able to have safer water for everybody.

      • 4. Christopher  |  September 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm

        I think an honest talk about it is appropriate. The article is not honest or evenhanded. It didn’t even let you know that some of the illegal discharges of water include discharge of clean drinking water into creeks. Or about the number of illegal discharges that are no more than sediment from construction sites. Neither discharge appreciably affects the drinking water from a public health view point.

      • 5. Kimberly Davis  |  October 18, 2009 at 2:52 pm

        We no longer need to demand to know what is in our drinking water, as all public purveyors must publish and send to their customers, annually, a Consumer Confidence Report. The CCR discloses all tests against all parameters, and highlights any that failed (very few, now).

        The article conflated three or four different laws and issues, to its detriment. This family and their neighbors were drinking from private, onsite wells. The mining company may well be legally, and certainly morally, liable, but groundwater is not “state waters” in, I think, all states.

        Too, the writer confused the Clean Water Act, which regulates effluent (wastewater), and of course there are indeed regulations which must be prosecuted vigilantly.

        The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates both raw, but more importantly, finished water, and violations, thankfully, are much rarer.

        I have dedicated my life to clean water and there are lots of important issues, but other writers are right to warn this article could wrongly impugn the safety of the nation’s tap water – with an undesired consequence of more use of bottled water.

  • 6. Christopher  |  September 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    The New York times provided lots of claims, but not much clickable links to look at the data. They didn’t even tell us where the Hall-Massey’s water comes from, a well, a municipality? If its a well what type of treatment do they have? Did they test the well when it was installed? If its from a municipality, what’s the name of purveyor so we can look at the water test records? They quote the lawyer’s study of 100 people, but no other corroborating evidence.

    I’m also a little confused on the causality of the mines they reference. The mines are digging things up from the ground where the ground water is, but somehow magically the ground under the houses don’t have the same type soil composition? Lots of accusations, not a whole lot of substance.

  • 7. Josie Summa  |  September 16, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I read this article and was shocked and saddened. The truth is, when the agencies start exerting a little muscle, the polluters go immediately to their legislators to complain. You know, intimidation a la Bernie Madoff.


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