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Protecting our water supply from chemicals

By Ramsay Adams
February 5, 2014

Most of New York State’s drinking water comes from right here in the Catskills, and it is renowned for its taste and purity. Our water is simply amazing, and we need to protect it for all of us who live here, and the 19 million people in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania who rely on water from our Delaware and Catskill watersheds. Our Catskill water is so pure, it reaches the taps of New York City unfiltered. Sadly, for the most part, we take it for granted that its purity and supply is being protected with vigilance by governmental regulatory agencies. The truth is that we should be much more watchful and cautious in making sure our water supply is protected.

Case in point: There’s an ongoing environmental disaster involving the water supply of hundreds of thousands of residents in West Virginia (WV). Earlier this month, over 7,500 gallons of a clear, licorice-smelling chemical used to process coal leaked from an old storage tank and spilled into the Elk River. The accident took place near the largest water treatment plant in the state. Over 300,000 residents were ordered not to drink the tap water. That chemical, Crude MCHM, which is primarily composed of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is very toxic, and there were immediate reports of rashes, stomach aches and other ailments.

After 10 days, restrictions on using tap water were lifted for most of those affected by the disaster, even though the licorice smell remained. Pregnant women are still being advised not to drink the water, while Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin emphasized that tests indicated the water is safe under guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. He was not too reassuring when he told residents: “If you do not feel comfortable drinking or cooking in this water, then use bottled water....”

Now, serious questions are being raised as to why there’s so little regulation of the storage of these chemicals, and even worse, why there’s so little knowledge by the federal government and the medical field about the potential toxicity of chemicals like the one spilled into the Elk River.