Icky Sickly Water Woes

Two recent news stories showcase the often uninvited residents of our nation’s water resources.

Photo by freeaussiestock.com. Some rights reserved.

Waterways through and surrounding the city of Boston have been receiving unwelcome and illegal dumps of raw sewage and other pollutants, according to a citizen lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in February of 2010. CLF alleges that defendant Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s (BWSC) “significant water-quality problems and programmatic deficiencies” are in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Then, yesterday, the EPA announced that the United States would be joining CLF’s case on the EPA’s behalf, seeking injunctive relief “in the form of significantly increased resources for BWSC to identify and expeditiously remove all illicit connections, implement stormwater Best Management Practices to mitigate concentrations of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable, establish programs necessary to meet permit conditions, and take actions necessary to mitigate and prevent [Sanitary Sewer Overflows].”

Since it’s winter, one shouldn’t need much more discouragement from taking a dip in the Charles, but just in case you want to know what you’re missing – the term “fecal” appears eight times in the complaint.

A few states down the coast, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson met with ten U.S. senators to discuss a recent report from the Environment Working Group that found chromium-6 (the “carcinogenic ‘Erin Brockovich chemical’”) in the drinking water of 31 out of 35 U.S. cities tested.

While the report claims that, despite its toxicity, the EPA “has not set a legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water,” the EPA was quick to disagree. A defensive statement released on Wednesday argues that the EPA “absolutely has a drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes chromium-6 (also known as Hexavalent Chromium), and we require water systems to test for it.”

Jackson’s slightly less defensive remarks on the senators’ meeting suggest that the EPA is moving quickly in response to the report. Though she maintains that “all public water facilities are in compliance with the existing total chromium standards,” she also laid out a series of steps “that the EPA will take over the coming days to address chromium-6 in our drinking water.”

Though most of the hubbub was centered around D.C., the highest levels of chromium-6 detected were actually in Norman, OK, Honolulu, HI, and Riverside, CA. You can track the status of the EPA’s chromium-6 risk assessment here.

You can review the status of BWSC’s stormwater permits and management reports here.

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