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A whale of a story.

I once had the pleasure of visiting with some of the members of our affiliate in Alabama. As is my custom when I am on the road, I asked a lot of questions. As best as I can reconstruct one particular discussion, it went something like this:NF: "What have been some of the more recent environmental issues that you've dealt with?""Just last week, we were called in to investigate a polluted whale."Hmm... I thought, now that's something I've not run across before. Then I got to thinking: we're in Tuscaloosa, which I realized was considerably inland from the gulf coast. So I asked, "You mean you were called all the way down to the coast to look at this whale?""No, it was right here."I thought for another second: well, Tuscaloosa is on a river. I guess the whale must have swum upstream. This was quickly getting very interesting. I asked, "Where exactly did you find the whale?" With some puzzlement beginning to show on the faces of my friends, the response came back, "It was on the grounds of one of our state mental institutions.""Wow!" I exclaimed. "That's incredible! Who found it?"Now my friends were really beginning to look at me in a weird way. Yet came their honest answer. "Why, it was just reported to us as a matter of routine surveillance.""All right," I said, "now just a minute." I was furiously thinking, how in the world could these people be telling me that a beached, polluted whale which swam 200 miles upstream was "just a routine thing"? I asked, "You mean to tell me that this state routinely runs surveillance for polluted whales in Tuscaloosa?""Yeah," they said. I protested, "Give me a break!"I repeated my question with obvious incredulity and to their credit they listened to my every word very carefully. Then, within seconds, they all burst out laughing. Again, as best I can repeat exactly what I heard--which was said by all of them at once--"we're not talking about whales, Nelson, we're talking about whales." For the benefit of the reader--translate whales to wells.That's one whale of a story I will never forget. And that expression, not to mention that story, comes to mind as I think about this issue of the journal. To be sure, we are featuring an outstanding article on wells and the serious water quality problems that are being found in them. The significance of Swistock's findings, especially in regards to the disturbing levels of radon and lead they found in large percentages of the private well systems in Pennsylvania, easily qualifies as a "whale of a story". But as many of you already know, that's a minnow of a story in comparison to the nationwide concern over well water quality, drinking water programs in general, and the funding support available for them.Mike Cook, the former director of EPA's Office of Drinking Water, once commented that in addition to the more than 200,000 public water supplies in the nation, there are "millions of people with private wells, which lie outside of EPA regulatory jurisdiction. These wells add up to the most serious drinking water problem in America."When research of the caliber that we are presenting in this journal becomes a part of our baseline understanding of the problem, a certain perspective regarding the magnitude of this issue begins to emerge. When the problems associated with well water are added to other drinking water considerations, the boundaries of the real challenge facing us get stretched out even further. Add to this the added issues of compliance costs, state and federal funding, new drinking water standards, etc., and you end up with a real whale of a story.NEHA has been working with EPA in various efforts to stretch resources and involve local environmental professionals in more of the water issue. A couple of years ago, and under contract with EPA, we developed an excellent guidebook that details how states and local environmental programs might contractually work together to pool their modest resources.We have also been featuring water experts at our conferences to keep our members informed. We have worked with kindred groups such as the Rural Community Assistance Programs to put our respective memberships in touch with each other. And as I write, our president, Chris Wiant, is participating on NEHA's behalf in a negotiated rule making with EPA on new disinfection byproducts standards.Stretching, pooling and combining resources, and working together seem to constitute about the only realistic route available to environmental professionals to substantively progress in achieving safe drinking water goals. Assuming that our efforts to achieve this interdependence (the very theme, incidentally, of our Orlando AEC this year) are successful, we really will have a whale of a story to tell. And unlike in my case, such a story would be no laughing matter!
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Title Annotation:safety of drinking water
Author:Fabian, Nelson
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:819
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