“The public is notified, and on we go”
A dreadful bill is pending in Montana’s legislature. It says that if a water system fails to meet safe-drinking-water standards for nitrate, water providers –including cafes and restaurants–would be allowed to substitute bottled water for tap. The bill seems to let utilities off the hook for remediation, hand bottlers a giant gift, and set a dangerous precedent for municipal water suppliers across the country. Instead of looking at a systemic failure–asking why nitrate levels are high and working to lower them–this bill lets private providers step into the breach. (Nitrate interferes with the delivery of oxygen to the brain, which is especially harmful for babies, and is linked with cancer. Excessive levels of nitrate get into drinking water from leaky septic tanks and fields spread with excessive manure. It’s possible to remove nitrate in water-treatment plants, and with home filters, though preventing contamination is a better idea. You can learn more about nitrate at the EPA’s website, here.)
Should the bill pass, a prophecy will come true: that love of the bottle will lead to the deterioration of community water supplies. Bottled water isn’t the solution here, not in the long run. It’s too expensive, and its environmental toll is too high. Moreover, it will do nothing to prevent nitrate contamination via agriculture (nitrate can be absorbed by irrigated crops) or an accumulation of exposures from cooking, bathing, dish washing, and those melting ice cubes in your glass of Perrier. And then there’s the vast world of nonhuman creatures that also rely on clean water. I’ll say no more.
Except this: who’s to say that the bottled water served by your Missoulian cafe is any safer than the stuff coming from the tap? Bottlers aren’t required to share the results of their tests. A utility is. Ellen Leahy, the director of the Missoula City-County Health Department told the Missoulian that when problems are found with municipal water, “what you see is it’s fixed. … The public is notified, and on we go. ”