How Green is Your City? (2007), written by Warren Karlenzig, features the “SustainLane US City Rankings” for “urban sustainability” of the 50 largest cities in the country. The City of
Karlenzig defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the quality of life of future generations.” (p. 1) There are 15 factors used to generate the City Rankings: city commuting, metro public transit, air quality, tap water quality, solid waste diversion, planning/land use, city innovation, housing affordability, natural disaster risk, energy/climate change policy, local food and agriculture, green economy, knowledge base, and LEED (green) buildings.
In light of all the discussion about leachate and gasification, we thought a ‘green assessment’ should take up the tap water quality issue first. The Karlenzig report relies on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) December 2005
We checked out data for our own City of
Here’s what it says about the City of
Breaking down the 14 by their source-- where they come from-- the largest category of pollutants was “industrial pollutants” (9), followed by “naturally occurring” (6), and “water treatment and distribution byproducts” (5), and other categories. (A contaminant may appear in more than one category.)
The EWG then looked at these contaminants from a health perspective, assessing “health based limits,” which “include enforceable drinking water limits (called Maximum Contaminant Limits, or MCLs) as well as governmental, non-enforceable health guidelines, such as Maximum Contaminant Limit Goals (MCLGs), lifetime health advisory levels, one-day and ten-day advisory levels to protect children from non-cancer health endpoints, and other government-established health guidelines for tap water contaminants.”
The EWG health summary identified “health effects or target organs of contaminants found: Cardiovascular or Blood Toxicity, Cancer, Developmental Toxicity, Endocrine Toxicity, Immunotoxicity, Kidney Toxicity, Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicity, Neurotoxicity, Reproductive Toxicity, Respiratory Toxicity, and Skin Sensitivity.”
About arsenic, the EPA says:
“Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.
Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.
EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion) to protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic. Water systems must comply with this standard by January 23, 2006, providing additional protection to an estimated 13 million Americans.
Ironically, the percentage of pollutants over “health based limits” was highest for the water treatment category; 4 out of 5 pollutants in the water treatment category were over EWG health based limits. Is what we add to the water to keep it clean itself a health risk?
From the EWG perspective, “The top contaminants of concern for the City of
Here is EWG summary of the situation in
“An Environmental Working Group analysis of tap water tests from 2001 through 2002 shows that customers of
The EPA maintains a “Consumer Confidence Report” website with annual drinking water quality reports from water suppliers who voluntarily list themselves. The City of
Before you run out and buy water from another source, know that most bottled water, for example, is not legally required to be tested, and when it has been tested, it has been shown to be not necessarily safer than tap water. Instead, we point out that the conclusion of the Assessment of National Tap Water Quality is “utilities need more money to monitor for contaminants and protect source waters.” In the context of the leachate discussion, where the nature and quantity of pollutants entering our treatment plant and exiting into our source of drinking water is not clearly understood, this seems wise counsel for the City Council.