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Friday, January 08, 2010

Below the Legal Limit

Well the government says it's safe:

Then complaints started from owners of expensive houses around the reservoir. “They supposedly discovered these chemicals, and then they ruined the reservoir by putting black pimples all over it,” said Laurie Pepper, whose home overlooks the manmade lake. “If the water is so dangerous, why can’t they tell us what laws it’s violated?”

Dr. Parekh has struggled to make his case. “People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” he said. “And so we encounter opposition that can become very personal.”


Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill. Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks. Others argue that the cost of removing minute concentrations of chemicals from drinking water does not equal the benefits.

So how to decide? There is no such things as "safe" water, or a "safe" product. Every good or service has a risk and return factor to it. As the article above points out, in minute quantities even otherwise hazardous chemicals can be consumed for years with little ill effect. Money spent removing such minute quantities could be better spent elsewhere. 

Yet who makes the choice? Since water distribution is a state monopoly, the answer is the state. Governments make decisions, whatever their rhetoric, on a political basis. Yet so powerful is the illusion of state "guaranteed" safe water, that people assume that water which is legally permissible is therefore safe. Thus the reaction of the reservoir side resident: “If the water is so dangerous, why can’t they tell us what laws it’s violated?” Which is absurd on the face of it. 

Rather than asking for an explanation of the objective threat to her health, instead the resident asks if it violates an arbitrary government standard. A private provider of water would have every incentive to sell water that provides a market acceptable level of safe water. The purer the water, the more expensive. People would have to decide how much they wish to pay for a given level of purity. Something similar to this already exists, in the emergence of the bottled water industry over the last thirty years. What holds back the completely private distribution of water is the mentality of people like the woman quoted in the article. It's the statism of the mind that's the real risk to water quality.

Posted by Richard Anderson on January 8, 2010 | Permalink


Hilarious, thousands of sun absorbing, petro chemical black balls leeching benzyne and toluene into the already poluted drinking water supply, priceless!

Posted by: Vegan Philosopher | 2010-01-08 8:04:04 AM

PUBLIUS, your conclusion is spot on.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-08 9:31:18 AM

Good point VP.
I also wonder what else has run off into this holding pond from the yards surrounding it. Years of lead emissions from cars? Fallout from smog? Pesticides and fertilizers? The list is frightening.
And surely this is not a holding pond for finished water. I would hope California has higher water standards than that!

PUBLIUS, I have to agree with TM, your conclusion is right on the money. People just take it for granted that their water supply is safe, and take no owner ship for ensuring its safety for themselves.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-01-08 9:59:37 AM

After reading all 6 pages on this report ,I would conclude that this is a problem that will not be resolved any time soon. If I were a homeowner with suspect water I would install a filtration system pdq. Also, it is not overly expensive to have your water tested where all chemicals are listed.Under $100. the last time I had it done.(We draw from a lake). Waiting for the US government to fix the problem for well over 60 million people will take decades ,if ever. A few hundred dollars invested in filtration would not eliminate the problem at the source, but it would buy peace of mind for the end user.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-01-08 4:40:50 PM

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