One set of recent headlines warned that some Great Lakes water may hold pollutants that pose a risk of cancer, premature births or other ills.
Another set of headlines warned that municipal water sources across the United States are dispensing trace amounts of pharmaceuticals mixed in with the water, and causing worry about the effects on humans and wildlife.
Both sets of headlines have drawn the attention of Congress, along with calls for the public to not overreact.
Since people literally cannot live more than a few days without water, we all should have a vital interest in getting these water-related health safety questions answered and any problems resolved.
Suspicions of a cover-up and Congressional pressure brought the release of a draft version of the long-awaited Great Lakes pollutant study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But CDC officials caution that they think some of the science involved in the study is weak, hence their reluctance to issue a final report yet. To their credit, they have asked the Institute of Medicine, an independent group, to judge the soundness of the findings. Be willing to await that review and view the study with skepticism rather than latch onto the suspicions of partisan politicians' conspiracy theories.
The issue of pharmaceuticals in water was highlighted by a series of stories this month by The Associated Press. The AP noted that many communities have found drugs in the water supply, ''including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.'' Many cities don't test for the presence of medications in the water, and some that do test do not make the results public, the AP reported.
When people consume medications, their bodies do not use up all of the dose, and what is left over is excreted and re-enters the water supply. Also, people throw unused medications down the drain or toilet.
The level of pharmaceuticals in the water is extremely small, but it remains a matter of concern for some scientists who wonder about the long-term effects.
Fortunately, the AP stories have prompted a response. The pharmaceutical industry and federal wildlife officials are launching an information campaign on how to properly dispose of unused medications. Efforts to promote testing of water for pharmaceuticals and to make test results public are also being promoted. This is where Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency can be helpful by establishing nationwide testing standards and requiring that results be made public.
Aside from oxygen, no other substance is as basic to sustaining human life as water, and citizens and government must ensure the safety of that water.