Water quality is among the most important environmental issues, yet we seem to take it entirely for granted. We turn on the faucet, then clean, safe water pours out for us to drink. We go on our merry ways without giving it half a thought.
Imagine living in Flint, Michigan, or any other place where contaminated water suddenly became public health crisis No. 1.
In early February, the residents of Blades learned that state tests of the town’s wells showed unsafe levels of perfluorinated compounds, legacy pollutants from old manufacturing processes. The effects of long-term PFC ingestion on human health include disruption of the endocrine and immune systems, impairment of learning in children and increased risk of cancer.
Those wells supply drinking water to every home in Blades and its 1,250 residents. Imagine drinking that water for decades. Imagine the ramifications of a similar crisis in Newark (pop. 33,400), Dover (pop. 37,700) or Wilmington (pop. 71,400).
Blades was not on our radar when we asked reporter Dan Linehan to examine the state of our drinking water supply, but it certainly vaulted to the fore when the news broke. That was the bad news. The good news is that, thanks to landmark federal legislation passed years ago, our water supply is, in general, in pretty good shape.
Just the same, protecting clean water demands constant vigilance, and it requires some personal effort. It may be easy and convenient to call out big industrial polluters—and they do need to be held accountable for their environmental impacts—but each of us makes an impact, too. We, the consumers, generate the demand for the goods whose manufacture creates pollution. Those of us who work hard to maintain lush, green lawns should realize that the nutrients in fertilizers often wash into water sources. We who enjoy fresh milk and summer dinners of barbecued chicken and corn on the cob need to understand that animal waste, crop irrigation and chemical pest control directly contaminate groundwater that lies under most of the state. There is a cost to human and animal health, to the cost of healthcare for associated illnesses and a cost to taxpayers: the expense of building or upgrading water treatment facilities.
As you will read, local conservation nonprofits, water utilities and the state are working to educate farmers about ways to improve their practices. Some are also working to implement natural, low-cost ways to prevent pollution. Planting buffers of trees and native plants on the edge of a cornfield, for example, stops soil from washing into streams that supply drinking water. Similar plantings downhill of cattle pastures, roads and parking lots have the same effect: hindering animal waste and runoff full of pollutants from motor vehicle exhaust from reaching the water supply. A water supply with fewer chemicals to treat in the first place means less expense and healthier water for all of us in the end.
There are probably 950,000 of us to whom the problem in Blades seems too distant to be real—yet it is. I hope Dan’s story reminds us that resources are not unlimited or magically safe. I hope it also conveys the good news about drinking water management—and I hope that, maybe, it will inspire each of us to change our habits just a little. Small measures add up.
—Mark Nardone • Executive Editor