After an explosion of coverage around the Flint, Mich. water situation in the past few months, those removed from the crisis geographically may comfort themselves with their own domestic layout. Students on our campus may dislike the chlorinated taste of the tap water, but at least they aren’t gulping down copious amounts of lead. At least they know the chemical contents that are in their water, as quarterly testing is required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and made available to the public on the Orono-Veazie Water District site. This is an astronomically different situation than the citizens of Flint, and yet similar complications continue to arise in our home water.
The Orono-Veazie water supply has experienced hiccups in their safety testing for several years, extending back to at least 2011 when the public began to show more organized concern for the water safety. But talk of the testing has most recently boiled down into a conversation topic much like the weather: something to mention, there and unavoidable. Concern extends only as far as the shock factor of it, and then we talk about other things.
To clarify, the water we drink on the University of Maine campus and in the surrounding area is not bogged down with lead like the water in Flint. The water here has historically been tested with high or exceedingly high amounts of disinfection byproducts. These chemicals, namely trihalomethane (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA5), are normal. The goal is to keep their involvement with our drinking water as minimal as possible without costing the public exorbitant funds. There is technology to keep THM and HAA5 levels low, but cost is a main deterrent against adopting those safeguards.
With the current water maintenance practices, testing of Orono-Veazie water wells results in a constant up and down slinging of THM and HAA5 levels from acceptable amounts to over safe limits and everywhere in-between. 2011 was the last time THM levels were above the EPA limit, though high spikes have been recorded as recently as Aug. 12 last year, when a well site in Veazie tested for 81.4 parts per billion (ppb). This statistic, compared to the established maximum contaminant level of 80 ppb, gives cause for concern. The EPA states that exposure to high levels of either THM or HAA5 may cause cancer, but testing in humans is limited due to ethical concerns. In the face of a potential carcinogen, limitation is the safest bet.
The results of these tests have always been given to us, as long as they are sought after. Unlike Flint, the government here has not been giving blanket statements making everything seem alright. However, there hasn’t been much announcement in the opposite direction either. This scrape-by methodology of merely testing under regulation and leaving the rest to chance feels lazy. We have the opportunity in our community to secure our safety and push ourselves farther from a potential crisis like those happening elsewhere in the country.
If we continue to brush off the water situation as something inevitable, it may worsen right under our noses. Pushing conversation about these staggering water quality reports is the first step to keeping the right people accountable and avoiding an irreversible tragedy in our own backyard. We cannot be complacent about something as vital to us as our drinking water.