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March 2002: Volume 44, Number 3

Safety First -- Putting Drinking Water at the Top of the List
by Ronald Y. PĂ©rez, WC&P Managing Editor

When the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standard for arsenic in drinking water was announced on Oct. 31 of last year, almost everyone knew that it would cause ripples throughout the water treatment industry. I don’t have to tell you how it’s impacted many of your businesses through requests or questions from customers seeking equipment that greatly reduces the contaminant in their water sources.

Where I sit, we report on many of the developments happening with water treatment companies and their efforts to produce an “antidote” of sorts to make the problem “go away.” Ahhh, if only it were that easy. Products profiled here in this magazine -- as well as many other trade publications and news reports -- are required to obtain a great deal of testing and evaluation even before being certified. Then, manufacturers must market the product and get it distributed properly. In short, it’s a long process but the consumer wants results right now!

I thought of this as I was going through our story list for this particular issue. Gee, I thought to myself, there seems to be a lot of arsenic “stuff” here. With that in mind, we decided to look at some safe water websites to see what kind of attention they give to the arsenic issue and, more importantly, how they present the vast information out there regarding public health and drinking water issues. Following is a sample of the sites that we initially thought would fit the bill.

www.safedrinkingwater.com
After scanning the “easy on the eyes” home page, I discover this site is the brainchild of McGuire Environmental Consultants Inc., of Santa Monica, Calif. The editor in me is quickly put on guard for any references to self-promotional jargon. My eyes are peeled. The only thing I find on the home page -- compact and easily identifiable -- is a nice preamble to a news-related site on drinking water.

The site is self-described as “the premier source of news and information for drinking water quality professionals with a combination of timely articles and incisive commentary from the leading observers in the industry.” Beautiful! That’s right on with our compass. Reading left to right, the main headings include About Us, News, Free Mail, Subscribe, Links and Recommend. Below the headings and to the right of the page, a few “top stories” are listed and updated daily. Nice!

In addition, archives for various articles and news items are provided. Besides, who wants to be at a strictly news site constantly. As a complement to that, a search function is also provided. You’ll never guess what word I selected? If you guessed wrong, you didn’t read the beginning of this column. Shame on you! Anyway, I received 98 results on arsenic, mostly governmental agency reports that, of course, are provided with hyperlinks. You can even sort by date. Looking for a water-related job? This site can help you find one.

www.safe-drinking-water.org
This site boasts the cleanest and most concise home page I have seen in quite some time. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by what I see at the right of the page -- "Arsenic Alert" in bold lettering. They must have seen me coming from a mile away. Or, they like making my job easier. This site is sponsored by Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water (CSADW), which is “an alliance of over 300 organizations working to protect drinking water in the United States.” Wow, 300 groups are represented and all we get is this simple, yet effective, home page? Outstanding!

OK, before we get to the main headings, let’s check out what CSADW has to say about the arsenic standard. The “response” is six paragraphs long and seems to walk the fence on the arsenic matter. Fair enough. You are also directed to more information on arsenic at the bottom of the response. Links to the National Academy of Sciences report and the USEPA are provided. Plus, there’s an item on endocrine disrupters. The regular readers of this column know how much that means to me.

Back to the headings. Some of them are Right to Know Reports, Protecting Vulnerable People, EPA Rulemaking, Water Infrastructureand Links. Right to know is just another way of saying “consumer confidence” or “water quality.” You are instructed how to obtain your particular report here. The “vulnerable people,” as you can guess, are specified as the very young or very old and those with terminal illnesses. Water Infrastructure serves as CSADW’s pulpit where they encourage Congress to spend $57 billion on various water investments.

www.watertreatmentguide.com
Right off the bat, I see a pet peeve of mine. Call me rigid, and many have, but any home page that runs too long horizontally is a feaux pas. Let’s move on to the content. Immediately, one name catches my eye -- Dr. Gil Dhawan. He’s listed as an “expert” on the home page. I have heard that name before. Sure enough, I discover he wrote for this magazine in 1991 and 1996. And, if he’s reading this, we would love an article from you.

Apparently a relatively new site, the home page says the site is still in development. Touted as “the industry’s one-stop source for information on all kinds of water treatment,” this site goes beyond the surface of water treatment as a topic. For now, the functional working buttons are Ask Our Experts! and Design information. Under Experts, you are asked to submit your technical questions. In Design information, one of the sub-topics is “What is Nanofiltration?”

Some of the upcoming features include reverse osmosis systems, membrane selection and membrane arrangement under Design information; process information; trouble shooting systems; and operation and maintenance guidelines. At the risk of misleading you, there’s a commercial component to this site. First, a reverse osmosis seminar button links you directly to the home page of Applied Membranes Inc. (Dhawan is president of the company). An online shopping guide also exists, though it’s unclear whether or not all products originate from that company.

www.waterandhealth.org
Run by the Water Quality & Health Council, this site is broken down very clearly between its main buttons -- Chlorine Tips, Wastewater, Food and Surfaces, Pools and Spas and Drinking Water. For the sake of our audience and space, we will concentrate on the drinking water element.

When you click on the drinking water button, you are given several sub-headings. They are, in order, “Latest Drinking Water News,” “Fact Sheets,” “From Our Newsletter,” “Drinking Water Links,” “Drinking Water and Health: Telling a Story” and “Search this Section.” I’m a big fan of search functions but first things first. The first two buttons are self-explanatory and useful for background information. “Drinking Water Links” gives a glimpse of the alliance of the site and some of the more notable names listed are the USEPA, the World Health Organization, National Drinking Water Clearinghouse and Water For People.

On to the search function. In keeping with the theme of our review, I type in arsenic after clicking on “Search this Section.” Eight matches appear. Not very extensive and each “news” item originates from waterandhealth.org. Add in the fact that the most recent update posted on the topic is 1998 and one must question the site’s freshness.

Conclusion
Assuming you started from the beginning of this magazine, you probably have seen or read enough about arsenic as you thumbed through this issue. We included a small discussion of it here as a primer to the larger picture of drinking water, its overall quality and how a few websites (being represented by different groups) approach the subject and what areas are emphasized. Always remember that arsenic is the hot topic now but, with the help of these websites and other similar ones, you can be prepared when something like radon becomes the hot word on everyone’s lips.

Making the Grade

www.safedrinkingwater.com
Valedictorian candidate, no doubt. Put this at the head of the class without any qualms. Text is concise and nowhere near wordy. In short, it says the most without being “showy.” Extra bonus -- extensive links page.

www.safe-drinking-water.org
Not to be confused with the previous website. Again, short and to the point. Doesn’t come off as polished as safedrinkingwater.com, but this is an honor list member. Health becomes a broader issue as some of the groups associated aren’t water-related.

www.watertreatmentguide.com
Remember the kid who showed much promise but always missed too much school to make an impact. Here it is. Give it an “Incomplete.” The promise is there, but the hope is that the revamped site stays away from overt commercialism.

www.waterandhealth.org
Let’s call this the Renaissance site. It knows something about everything, but not a lot about one particular thing a la the straight B student. Nothing bad there but you’re waiting for that breakthrough “A” and it doesn’t seem to arrive.