A recent series on tap and bottled water by the Associated Press has helped place water quality under the media spotlight. However, it was in 2002 that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provided the first national investigation forewarning of emerging contaminants.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment held a hearing 18 September entitled, "Emerging Contaminants in U.S. Waters." The subcommittee received testimony from representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USGS, the state of Maine, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and academic researchers.

Testimony from expert witnesses expressed the urgency to determine the identity and current levels of contaminants, and to assess the exact threshold of their ecological and human health impact. Dr. Peter deFur of the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University voiced a common sentiment that "pollution prevention remains as the most cost effective way to deal with this issue." Testimony suggested following current state models that foster product stewardship from both private and industrial contamination sources, with the basic message "stop treating the toilet like a trash can."

The hearing may serve to inform future action on legislation, such as the "WATER Study Act of 2008," which would direct the EPA to conduct a study on surface water contamination. Also bubbling in Congress is the not yet introduced "Bottled Water Right to Know Act," which would provide consumers with information about the source of bottled water -- a related issue as 40% of bottled water is tap water and is less regulated than tap water.


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