Government’s Uncertain Role in Clean Water Protection Points to Final-Barrier POU Treatment
By David H. Martin
The Flint water crisis began in April 2014, when the city, at the behest of a state-appointed emergency manager, severed its connection from the Detroit water system and began drawing water from the polluted and corrosive Flint River. In gross violation of federal law, the switch was made without implementing chemical corrosion control measures. That water corroded the city’s pipes, causing lead to leach into drinking water. Local, state and federal officials ignored residents who protested the fetid, foul-smelling water and both Democratic and Republican officials conspired to keep the high lead levels a secret. In October, the General Motors engine plant in Flint stopped using Flint River water because it was corroding engine parts. Neither GM nor the United Water Workers Union, however, made any attempt to warn the public of the dangerous state of the water.
Water that was deemed too caustic for industrial use was still pumped into the homes of Flint residents for 18 months. In October 2015, amid an intensifying political crisis, the state of Michigan switched Flint’s water supply back to the Detroit water system. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in January 2016. Extensive damage, however, had already been done to the pipes. New corrosion-control chemicals were added to gradually improve safe drinking-water quality.
But the trust that people had in public drinking water cannot be easily restored. While the state and non-profit organizations continue to provide free bottled water and POU faucet filters rated for lead, many residents don’t trust end-of-faucet filters to provide safe drinking water. One valiant non-profit, Crossing Water, organizes volunteers to go door to door in Flint, distributing water, installing filters and finding out what else people need. While the city and state were also distributing water, many residents continued to view local and state government officials with deep mistrust, a wariness that is understandable when one considers how the water crisis began and how long it took officials to acknowledge that there was a problem.
When it comes to clean water protection, who can you trust?
Federal protection of clean water in rivers and other navigable waterways goes back 45 years. Since its inception in 1972, the Clean Water Act has allowed the federal government to regulate main waterways in the US to limit pollution. The act, which protects the quality of navigable waters, has been justifiably called the single most effective federal environmental law ever. In May 2015, the Clean Water Rule (also known as WOTUS or Water of the United States) was introduced to add protection for thousands of secondary streams and wetlands.
In late February, President Trump signed an executive order to curtail the rule as part of his larger goal to relieve unnecessary regulatory burdens on American industry by reversing Obama administration environmental rules. This controversial, proposed US EPA regulatory change has created uncertainty in the minds of many Americans who have historically trusted the federal government to always advance environmental protection of our natural waterways. President Trump has ordered the agency to stop defending the current Clean Water Rule in court. It is currently under a nationwide stay issued by the US 6th Circuit Court, pending further litigation. That means anyone looking to comply with regulations under the Clean Water Act will have to operate under significant regulatory uncertainty for at least a few years while a new rule makes its way through the official legislative process.
Final barrier: added protection everyone can trust
Final-barrier treatment is technology installed at the point where water is consumed. It can be an adjunct to central treatment, as well as primary treatment in homes using untreated well water. While trust in local, state and federal government clean water protection is under attack, a February 2017 public opinion study for the Water Quality Association shows that 92 percent of respondents were aware of in-pitcher and end-of-faucet filters, up from 83 percent in 2015. The same study reveals that 84 percent of those surveyed are aware of refrigerator drinking water filters. In addition, the survey notes that 23 percent said RO was the most effective form of water treatment (up from 27 percent in 2015), while ultrafiltration was next at 22 percent (up from 14 percent two years ago). Of those who purchased a home water filtration system, 36 percent were concerned about health risks associated with tap water (up from 31 percent two years earlier).
Types of final-barrier equipment include:
- Pour-through pitchers
- Countertop units
- Faucet-attached devices
- Undersink filters
- Refrigerator filters
- RO units
Final-barrier technologies include:
- Ion exchange, distillation, ultrafiltration and RO for inorganics (e.g., lead)
- RO, distillation, UV and carbon block for microbiological organisms
- RO, distillation and UV for particulates
- Activated carbon for volatile organics
Final-barrier provides treatment for:
- Proven reduction of DBPs
- Corrosion products (including lead) from plumbing and the distribution system
- Contaminant intrusions into the system
- Disease-causing microbiological organisms
- Trace elements of endocrine disruptors, personal care products and pharmaceuticals
Today, with trust eroding in the quality of our water environment (including streams, wetlands and infrastructure), more people are looking beyond government to secure the safety of their drinking water. Final-barrier protection can provide everyone with peace of mind. Dealers can find consumer-friendly information on WQA’s Final Barrier Initiative at www.wqa.org/ and https://www.wqa.org/Portals/0/Publications/Final-Barrier_brochure.pdf
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at email@example.com