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May 12, 2005
by Stuart Lieberman
During the last century, we talked about how chemicals would enhance our lifestyles, as a result, we then stopped talking, and started producing; developing these chemicals for many industrial and agricultural applications.
In this century, the focus is now on how these chemicals have entered our drinking water, and have vaporized into our homes and work places. The objective now, fixing the problems caused by the uncontrolled use of chemicals which began during the 1900s.
Many of these chemicals have polluted our drinking waters, streams and air. We come home, believing them to be "safe environments," but to many, their homes equate to chemical exposure.
One often encountered chemical is benzene. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is "established and accepted" that exposure to benzene causes leukemia and a variety of other diseases in humans. This is pretty heavy language coming from the government, as they tend to be noncommittal when it comes to saying that anything causes cancer.
The most common form of benzene exposure usually follows the release of gasoline from underground storage tanks at gas stations. This process will sometimes allow it to flow into underground drinking water aquifers. This can lead to drinking or inhalation exposure. We have known about drinking risks for years, but inhalation risks have only recently been the subject of regulatory focus.
But, there are other exposure pathways ways. These discharges from the storages tanks, and during other industrial processes, have also found their way into our drinking water supplies.
Benzene is clear, colorless and highly flammable. To give you an idea of what the government thinks about benzene, consider this. In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is the law that generally indicates what kinds of chemicals can be found in our drinking water and still have the water be considered safe for consumption.
The "goal" for benzene is zero. According to the EPA, the goal is set at zero because it's the only level of protection that can be deemed absolutely safe. No benzene at all.
The government will allow five parts per billion in drinking water, which is an extremely small amount. Why does the law differ from the goal? Recognition that eliminating benzene from all drinking water sources, using current technologies, is not feasible.
Benzene production increased from 9.9 billion pounds in 1984 to 12 billion pounds in 1993. This obviously, increases the chances of accidental release.
The key to all of this is knowing whether your drinking water is dirty, and then making sure that it becomes clean as quickly as possible. Or, you may have to find a permanent alternate drinking water source.
Public water supply companies must send customers annual reports that indicate, and identify, the levels of contaminants in your drinking water. Read it.
If affected, many governments provide loans and grants to address the problem. If the source is identified, legal action may be necessary to preserve your rights.