Gongol.com Archives: February 2023

Brian Gongol

February 24, 2023

Water News Bad water killed three Presidents

The EPA is touting the availability of $2.4 billion for infrastructure projects under what is known as the "Clean Water State Revolving Fund". The fund primarily goes towards loans and loan guarantees for work on pollution control programs and the construction of wastewater treatment plants. Nothing about that sounds particularly catchy or attention-grabbing, and that reflects a pretty serious shortcoming in the way we approach those sectors. ■ The agency performing the distribution is the Environmental Protection Agency. But it's a real failure -- of branding as well as of persuasion -- to categorize water treatment as an environmental issue. The plain fact is that we don't treat wastewater for the good of trees and fish. We should spend our resources on that work because it is a lifesaving health measure. ■ Consider this Presidents' Day fact: William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor all likely died from drinking contaminated water -- in the White House! Legend has long had it that Harrison's demise was the result of pneumonia, contracted when he gave a long-winded Inaugural Address without a coat in the cold and rain. ■ The speech was exhaustingly long, to be certain. But the truth is probably worse than the legend: Harrison was probably killed by his drinking water. And because the same problems persisted at the White House, bad water probably killed Polk and Taylor, too. ■ As a society, we don't treat water -- either before or after people use it -- for the good of "the environment". We do it to protect and preserve public health. Period. End of story. Contaminated water probably kills half a million people annually worldwide. And it sickens millions more who don't die, but who still suffer. When you hear about natural disasters like earthquakes, the initial trauma is often deadly -- but so is the subsequent exposure to unsafe water. It's a grave but underappreciated risk in quake-stricken Turkey right now. ■ Misdirected branding like "environmental protection" doesn't help the situation. Nor, really, does a mislabel like "wastewater". It's not wasted -- it's been used by human beings, and what we should do is call it "unwell water". Something that has become unwell needs to be healed, and that's exactly the case with water that has been used by human beings. Once it has been made "well" again, then it is safe for people to encounter. "Waste" suggests that a thing goes away, but water doesn't do that -- whether in the White House in the 1800s or in Turkey or Syria today, unwell water finds its way back to people's mouths. ■ All water is recycled, and forever will be. Once we acknowledge that fact, it becomes imperative to think of it not as something that goes to waste or that retreats back to nature, but as something to be healed for our own human health. And once you start to think in those terms, then $2.4 billion in spending (or about $7 per American) seems like very little indeed. We may not agree on how to value "the environment", but surely our health is worth more.

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