It’s been a big news year for drinking water. In January, a coal-processing chemical called MCHM leaked from a tank farm above the banks of the Elk River just upstream of Charleston, West Virginia. The MCHM entered the intake of the city’s water plant, leading a few hours later to a massive do-not-drink water advisory for nine counties and more than 300,000 residents.
In August, residents of Toledo, Ohio, were warned not to drink their water because of a toxin called microcystin caused by an algal bloom in Lake Erie. And Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, our nation’s most important law governing tap water. The law has achieved much and provides an event worthy of celebration. But is our drinking glass half-empty or half-full?
Everyone cares about drinking water and yet, despite episodes such as those in Charleston and Toledo, we take its convenience and safety remarkably for granted. That most certainly is not the case in much of the world, where “Is it safe to drink the water?” is a very real question. Almost 2 billion people don’t have access to treated water. Yet I can go virtually anywhere in the United States and take a sip from the tap without a second’s thought.
Even better, tap water regularly outperforms bottled water in blind taste tests. More people can drink safely from American faucets today than ever before. In historic terms, though, the assumption of safe drinking water is a very recent development...
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