Friday, July 20, 2007

Week of Bad News for Region's Water

Just about every day for the last week, the Washington Post has had a story about a threat to our region's water -- both in streams and in taps. The most worrisome report concerned levels of chlorine pollutants in DC's drinking water:

Toxic chlorine pollutants were found at unsafe levels in 40 percent of D.C. tap water samples tested this spring during the water utility's annual chlorine surge, according to a national environmental group's report to be released today.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group conducted tests at 18 sites -- including private homes, an elementary school, the U.S. Capitol and the Environmental Protection Agency -- to measure the levels of chlorine toxins that could cause cancer, reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. In 90 percent of the samples, the tests found another class of chlorine toxin at levels that some epidemiological studies have associated with low birth weight and serious birth defects.

The findings suggest that the chemicals needed to help make Potomac River water potable could be creating a different risk to consumers. Chlorine is used to kill disease-causing microbes. Heavy use results in chemical compounds, called disinfection byproducts, that are formed when organic matter in the river water reacts with the chlorine.
You can read the full Environmental Working Group report here.

Also this week:

* A Smithsonian Institution researcher discovered an invasive species of Asian crab in the Chesapeake Bay.

* A joint study between the U.S. government and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found ethanol production could damage the bay. How? More corn-based ethanol means more demand for corn, which means more farmers growing corn. It's yet another reason we should be looking at next-generation cellulosic or biomass ethanol instead of corn-based ethanol.

* Also from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a report discussing the impacts rising sea levels could have on the bay. The most disturbing passage:

[Smith Island minister Rick Edmund] said residents are hoping Congress will approve a $9.4 million plan, proposed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), to build artificial breakwaters offshore.

But Edmund said island residents know that their problems will probably get worse.

"Climate change," he said in a telephone interview yesterday, "will get us in the long run."
* The final piece of news could be taken one of two ways. You could see it as, "The Potomac River is safe to swim in on some days!" Or you could see it as, "After all these years, on a lot of days the Potomac still isn't safe to swim in."
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