Should I be afraid of tap water? Not at all.

Ask Eco-Ed…

Dear Eco-Ed:

I’ve recently read about the elevated Arsenic levels in our water.  I’m now confused about what to do.  Isn’t Arsenic poisonous?  Should I be scared to drink my water?  To shower in it?  How can Ridgewood Water be providing us water with all of these chemicals in them.  I’m using only bottled water these days for drinking, but know that the plastic containers are not the right thing to do either.

- Seeking Clean Water in Glen Rock

Dear Seeking Clean Water:

I have heard this concern raised recently, since Ridgewood Water notified local customers of the issue, so let me state a few facts to put this in perspective.  Ridgewood Water gets its water from predominantly aquifers, while United Water sources mostly above ground reservoirs.  While it is true that in a single well in Glen Rock (out of the over 50 wells that Ridgewood Water operates) tested at arsenic levels of 5.75 Parts Per Billion.  This well was then closed down, while the issue is being addressed.  This level exceeds the New Jersey standard of 5 ppb, although it is well within the national standard of 10 ppb.

In our water source, there are over 100 chemicals/minerals that Ridgewood Water routinely tests for.  Contaminants are from many sources.  Arsenic, along with radium, uranium and others occur naturally in rock formations, and are present in our water in miniscule amounts.  Other chemicals find their way in from manmade sources, pollution, runoff, fertilizers, discharge by industries, etc.  These are typically the ones that the water companies have to be more cognizant of.  There is a great debate going on now, because of a natural gas harvesting technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “Fracking” as it is more commonly known.  This process, in its current form, is known to contaminate entire watersheds with harsh and carcinogenic chemicals.  It is allowed because oil and gas exploration companies have been given exemption from Clean Air/Clean Water laws, and they hold much lobbying power in Washington.

So what is an acceptable risk for our arsenic issue? What makes 5 ppb okay and 6 ppb punishable by law? Why is 10 ppb OK for the rest of the United States?  These numbers are essentially guidelines set forth, based on many factors, which may or may not be relevant.  This is not an emergency situation.  Our water companies must adhere to these standards, and we are provided with the cleanest and safest drinking water on the planet.   Surprisingly, many bottled waters are derived from municipal water sources much like ours.  However bottled water is not subject to the same standards as drinking water.  They may or may not go through additional treatment or filtering.  Bottled water also has huge pollution issues, as the water is pumped from far away, shipped using fossil fuels for transportation, and then there is the obvious,  the creation and disposal of trillions of plastic bottles.  If you walk along the street, or in a park, you can see firsthand how many of these never make it to the garbage can, never mind being properly recycled!

If you want additional security, beyond trusting our municipal water source, there are many positive options.  You can have a filtration system installed in your home, simply install a Point-of-use filter onto your tap, use a Brita-type filter, and use refillable, re-useable containers.  I would advise everyone to become more aware of the importance of clean water, and to become active in protecting it.  Let your elected officials know, because many large corporations are spending a fortune to “persuade” Congress to allow them to contaminate our water sources.  If the Clean Water Act had not been passed, we would have much more dire issues than .75 ppb of Arsenic!