In the News! "What is in the Water We Drink?"

Monday, August 6, 2012 - 3:19pm

by John Pekkanen, The Washingtonian, July 2012

Washington’s tap water, most of which comes from the Potomac River, meets or exceeds federal water-quality standards. But new pollutants have emerged that are not removed by current water-purification technology. Evidence suggests that the same contaminants that caused massive fish kills and deformities in recent years are linked to increases in obesity, diabetes, autism, cancer, and other disorders—and that medications and products we use every day might contribute to the problem.

Of all the natural resources in the Washington area, none is more important than the potomac river. Besides the beauty and recreation it provides, the area pulls nearly 400 million gallons of water a day out of it—about 90 percent of our drinking water.

In some ways, the Potomac is cleaner today than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Back then, people were warned not to swim in the river or eat fish from it; a tetanus vaccination was recommended for anyone who did swim there. On many days, you could smell the Potomac before you saw it.
Even so, the drinking water in the Washington area is closely monitored and meets or exceeds every Environmental Protection Agency water-quality standard. But as some of the old pollutants have been removed from the river, new ones have emerged that are not removed by current technology and may be harmful to human health, especially for the very young.

This emerging class of contaminants, called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), a variety of natural and manmade chemicals from many sources, first came to light in a dramatic way in the summer and fall of 2002 with massive fish kills along the south branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia, about 200 miles upstream from DC. Some of the contaminants are new, and others have been discovered recently because new measuring techniques permit scientists to identify EDCs in minute quantities.

Read more to learn what Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble, Potomac Riverkeeper Ed Merrifield and USGS scientist Vicki Blazer have to say about EDCs and the Potomac River.