by Shelton Owen

The issue of contaminated drinking water isn’t some far off problem, only applicable to third world countries. It’s right here at home in the United States. The residents of Cambria County, Pennsylvania have joined the people of Flint, Michigan and other communities around the country who that the threat of contaminated water is a real problem for some in this country. Last week, a letter was sent out by the Patton Borough Water Department informing customers of a contaminant (trihalomethane) in their water supply. Customers expressed a mix of confusion, concern, and anger because the occurrence wasn’t a one time thing; it has been prevalent for seven years.

Trihalomethane (THM) is defined as “a chemical compound in which three of the four atoms of methane are replaced by halogen atoms”. THM isn’t rare, in fact, small traces are found in almost all drinking water because it’s simply a by-product of disinfection using chlorine. The chemicals result from chlorine’s reaction with organic matter in the water. Due to questionable health concerns associated with high THM levels, such as increased cancer risks and adverse reproductive outcomes, many governments wisely limit the amount permissible in drinking water. The Patton borough’s mayor stated that while officials notified customers yearly and published quarterly findings in public places, they failed to notify customers directly each quarter due to a lack of knowledge about federal regulations. Once that information was made clear, the letter was sent out.

source: {Water Importance}

The spokesperson for Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection attempted to calm nerves by insisting the levels present weren’t high enough to cause harm to consumers. His words didn’t seize concern completely, with worries of unknown long-term effects still lingering in the minds of many. How can he be certain of when high is “too-high”? The EPA’s limit is 80 parts per billion for total concentration of four main trihalomethanes (chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane). Flint, Michigan was in the national spotlight for their sanitation scandal, with a highest TTHM reading of 99 parts per billion. Though it may seem like a slim difference, a little flaw can ignite mass fear-fear driven by the unknown. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that TTHMs were even identified, a subsection of the Disinfection Byproducts chemical family. Unfortunately, hundreds of other groups within this family go unmonitored. Citizens place faith in their city to provide pure, safe water from the tap and when that trust is violated, it takes work to restore.

For those in Niger, Africa, the opportunity to raise questions and demand better practices is a privilege not available in rural communities. The nation’s financial status and unstable government doesn’t leave much room for efficient programs such as the U.S.’s EPA.

Clean water is a treasure. A well that provides easy access to this most basic need seems like, its simple disinfection a miracle in itself for the women and children who trek all day for its retrieval. It is through the work of Wells Bring Hope and other foundations that proper sanitation practices can not only be established, but improved upon, allowing the people of Niger to thrive.