Augmenting Drinking Water with Reclaimed Water

Most of the views I will provide on this issue are not mine alone. They are the opinions released in a National Research Council Report in 1998. The most striking aspect of the NRC report, titled "Issues in Potable Reuse: the Viability of Augmenting Drinking Water Supplies With Reclaimed Water," is the following statement: "Further, indirect potable reuse is an option of last resort"

The reasons for this dramatic statement are simple. The United States of America, and for that matter, the world’s scientific community does not and will not know all of the toxic agents and carcinogens that may be able to make it through the indirect reclaimed water process. It took decades until the risk of Chromium 6 materialized. Imagine the possibility of thousands of unknown agents getting into our water supply as a result of hospital and industrial waste releases. And the release by such organizations will not be predictable. We do not even have tests available to determine many of the unknowns that may show up in water from the indirect water reuse program.

Some say that this water will be the cleanest water in Los Angeles. And that may possibly true in terms of the known agents that we can test for. But this program is like Russian roulette. It may be fine for years, until an unknown agent makes it through the process and kills people in LA. Anytime one deals with medical wastes and industrial wastes in such large quantities, it is likely that such a scenario will eventually materialize. We simply do not have the testing mechanisms required to protect the people of Los Angeles from such an eventuality. The indirect potable water reuse project is not new. It has been around for decades. Studies have been done. The NRC, however, warns: "Negative results from such studies do not prove the safety of the water in question."

In 1996, a Rand Corporation study found that there was an almost 100% (average of 73%) increase in rates of liver cancer in areas using reclaimed water. The authors, however, down play the finding by stating there is no evidence to associate liver cancer with reclaimed water; therefore the liver cancer is most likely explained by other factors. In my opinion, and in the opinion of others who read this statement, it is flawed reasoning. The liver is the organ that processes toxic substances and it s likely, not unlikely, that liver cancer could result from unknown toxins in the reclaimed water. Who knows if liver cancer in this study resulted from the reclaimed water? That is not the issue. The issue is why have not extensive animal tests been done before this water was forced on people? Drinking water standards cover only a limited number of contaminants. They are intended for water obtained from conventional, relatively uncontaminated sources of fresh water, not for reclaimed water, and therefore cannot be relied on as the sole standard of safety."

Thus, according to the NRC’s report, the gigantic problem with this water is... "from the large number of compounds that may be present, the inability to analyze for all of them, and the lack of toxicity information for many of the compounds."

Los Angeles in embarking on a project considered the "option of last resort" by the National Research Council. Don’t the people of Los Angeles deserve programs that protect their health, not threaten it? Thank you.

—Dr. Steven Oppenheimer




© Beachwood Voice 2007 
Fran Reichenbach, editor
Lee Cantelon, online editor
August 02, 2007