On Municipal Water Quality: A voice of caution
Civil Engineers at California Water works differentiated water contamination from water pollution in 1963. A differentiation which is still applicable four decades over : Water contamination is the impairment of the quality of water by sewage or industrial waste to an extent that it renders the water a hazard to public health because of the potential to poison or spread diseases. Water pollution is an impairment of the quality of water by sewage or industrial waste to a degree that does not create an actual hazard to public health, but adversely and unreasonably affect the quality of water for domestic, industrial, navigational or recreational use. These definitions provide a barometer for measuring water quality standard and also serve as the foundation of established policy of what may be considered as permissible pollution. For municipal water consumers these definitions are more confusions. The consumers would just like to know if the source(s) of water they are drinking or cooking with is clean. The technicality of defining water contamination as against pollution could be tricky considering our experience in the late 80’s when the National Resource Defense Council campaigned against the United States Environmental Protection Agency on the way it handled pesticides pollution from farms. At the time, the levels of dioxins in some municipal water source were unacceptable. While the Council had its own definition of acceptable standard the EPA had its own, and this completely just muddled up the public understanding of a problem that kept everyone on the edge.
No matter what definition you may rely on in differentiating a safe water source, it is important to adhere to the precautionary principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or environment, precautionary measure should be taken, even if some cause and effect relationship can not be fully scientifically established. The application of the precautionary principle, gives everyone some degree of control as to the safety of water they consume.