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Water Pollution in the US: A New Series in the "New York Times"

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Last update : September 2009

The New York Times initiated a series of articles on water pollution in the US. This issue is currently headline material in this country, with successive studies and revelations on the poor quality of US waters, as well as on the poor (or, more to the point, appalling) record of the Bush administration on the subject.

The first piece in the series (dated 22nd of August, 2009) deals with atrazine, a very popular weed killer. Recent studies suggest that the maximum concentration standards set by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) are much too high, since atrazine could prove harmful at very small doses. EPA officials and Syngenta (which produces most of atrazine-based products) claim that current standards and protection measures are more than enough to protect the health of the population. There are many who think, however, that the case of atrazine is just one example of the necessity to completely overhaul EPA’s risk prevention and water quality control systems and processes.

Read Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass.

This new series resonates with recent developments and studies in the domain of water pollution.

Also see Danielle Ivory, «EPA Fails to Inform Public About Weed-Killer in Drinking Water», The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, http://huffpostfund.org/stories/epa..., as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council report on atrazine.

First, a study released by the US Geological Survey (USGS) revealed the extent of the contamination of water by mercury: in 27% of sites on US territory, fish samples presented a rate of contamination by mercury higher than the EPA standard. (Note that this standard has been set on the basis of the average consumption of fish by American citizens. Which means that populations who eat more fish than average, including people living by rivers or lakes, Native Americans, Asian, Caribbean or Pacific islands migrants, are even more exposed to mercury.) The main sources of mercury in water are coal-based power plants and gold mines.

Second, Lisa Jackson, the new head of EPA, recently announced that the agency would reconsider the issue of perchlorate. This chemical compound, which is widely used by the armament industry, has been connected, through drinking water and vegetables such as lettuce, to thyroidal affections as well as to mental retards in infants. Precedent efforts to have this substance regulated by EPA had proved no match to the power of armament industrial lobbies under the Bush administration.

Finally, a trial involving New York City water authorities and Exxon over the pollution of groundwater in Queens by the petrol additive M.T.B.E. opened in early August, and its first stages seem favourable to the city. This is just the first one of a hundred cases is one of hundreds of cases that have been presented around the country against oil companies over M.T.B.E. Most oil companies have chosen to settle off the courts.