Water is one of the basic human needs, and water quality dictates whether that resource is a blessing or a challenge. Water quality issues range from aesthetic concerns, such as taste, color, and hardness, to health-based concerns. Public concerns usually focus on aesthetic qualities that can be seen or smelled when you turn on the tap. However, health-based concerns, such as the presence of bacteria, lead, or other toxins, are real threats to public health. Homeowners often have a very low awareness of health-based water quality problems because most are symptomless and are only discovered through water testing or obvious illnesses.
For example, the City of Flint, Michigan, switched municipal water sources in 2014. Both sources of water were within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations of health-based maximum contaminant levels. However, the new water source was more corrosive than the previous source. If corrosive water flows through lead pipes, it can leach lead from the pipes by dissolving small quantities of the metal on its journey to homes and businesses. Several medical studies confirmed a correlation between the new water source and elevated blood lead levels.¹
Oil and gas production, especially hydraulic fracturing, raises the public’s concern when they think operations might threaten water quality. However, the only way to know whether or not there is a relationship between industry and water quality is through a robust system of water testing, analysis, and interpretation.
1. M. Hanna-Attisha et al., “Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated With the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response,” American Journal of Public Health 106 (2016), 283-290.
Images: “Flint River” by US Army Corps of Engineers