Just Don’t Drink Water?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) doesn’t want you to drink bottled water because it’s a waste of resources. Tap water is just as good they say. Yet today’s Washington Post reports that EWG also says tap water is not safe. What is one to do?! EWG suggests: Have the feds regulate more (making your tap water more expensive) and use Brita Filters (also more expensive, and I suspect EWG will someday say these don’t work either!). I suggest: Ignore the EWG. Both tap and bottled water offer fine options. In another blog post, I already noted the craziness of the green attacks on bottled water.

EWG’s claims about tap water are equally absurd. They maintain that chlorination—which is necessary to kill microbes that would otherwise make us all very sick—produces dangerous byproducts that could cause cancer. In a recent “study,” they say that D.C. residents should be particularly concerned because their water exceeds federal safety standards. What a bunch of bunk!

D.C. is within legal limits. EPA limits total exposure to chemicals over a one-year timeframe. Regulators assume that on some days it will be higher, some lower. Accordingly, the higher days don’t mean that the system is out of compliance or at all risky, contrary to what the EWG implies.

What really matters is total exposure to substances over a lifetime. Temporary elevations of tiny amounts–such as the 10 or even 60 parts per billion “discovered” by EWG–don’t matter.

EWG’s claims are akin to saying if you smoked a handful of cigarettes or ate a couple ice-cream cones a few days during your life, you have the same risk as if you smoked and ate those products every day. But it doesn’t work that way. Cancer is largely a disease related to aging and long-term exposures to relatively high levels of substances. None of that is relevant here. Ironically, even if byproduct levels were higher than EPA regulatory standards every day of the year, there would be little reason to worry. Cancer risks from disinfection byproducts are theoretical and unproven. In fact, EPA admitted that its regulations are based on weak science that prove nothing. EPA noted when it issued the regulations: “Using the criteria for causality, the present epidemiologic data do not support a causal relationship between exposure to chlorinated drinking water and development of cancer at this time. This conclusion does not preclude the possibility that a causal link may be established at a later date by future epidemiology and toxicology studies.”

Basically, that means, EPA found nothing solid on which to base its rule, but still wanted to regulate. The agency simply deemed it “prudent” to act because someday we might have evidence. Geez, that’s like locking up a crime suspect because someday you might find him guilty! I hardly think it is advisable to listen to anyone who subscribes to that kind of “justice”–especially not irresponsible groups like the EWG.