BY TARA LENNON
Philadelphia recently made headlines when a pipe failure from a manufacturing facility resulted in a latex polymer solution spilling into a tributary of the Delaware River. The city’s water department then advised some residents to stock up on bottled water, before deeming the drinking water safe again.
Such instances of environmental contamination raise the question of which are the best and safest ways to hydrate.
According to Jennie Saxe, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the spill into the Delaware River did not affect the water sources of the city of Newark. However, the potential for water contamination is always present, and Saxe said that water treatment facilities are readily prepared to meet that challenge.
She said that all public water systems have “emergency response plans.” Water treatment facilities not only make those plans, but conduct mock emergencies to prepare themselves and their staff.
Mark Neimeister, the City of Newark’s water operations superintendent, said that the Newark Reservoir is there for any emergency scenarios with Newark’s drinking water supply. Tim Filasky, the City of Newark’s director of public works & water resources, added that the reservoir has about a 90-day supply of water, and that the City is looking to reactivate a few wells to extend that supply to 180 days and eventually to a full year’s worth.
Additionally, Neimeister said that the water systems within New Castle County are interconnected, allowing for the ability to get water from other places in Delaware in potential times of need.
Aside from specific instances of water contamination, the general question of the safety of tap water remains on peoples’ minds, as the simple Google search of “Is tap water safe?” yields thousands of results.
“Is the water safe to drink? We all want that to be a real simple answer, and it is not, because it’s going to depend on where you are and who you are and what’s going on at that time,” Saxe said.
She said that for the majority of people, tap water is usually safe to drink. However, specific personal factors, like whether or not a person is immunocompromised or a person’s age, can affect the safety of tap water. Additionally, tap water varies from place to place, even within the city of Newark with the city having two different water treatment plants.
The monitoring of water treatment systems is a constant process, according to Saxe, with risks monitored on varying bases.
“The monitoring is supposed to match the potential risk to human health,” Saxe said.
Neimeister said that the City of Newark has spent $4 to $5 million over the last three years to deal with removing contaminants in the city’s groundwater supply, and plans to invest $4 million moving forward to deal with emerging contaminants that are not yet regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, but likely will be moving forward. These contaminants include per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS. They are also often referred to as “forever chemicals,” since they are man-made chemicals used in consumer and industrial products that don’t break down over time.
Even with all the monitoring on public water sources, some still view tap water with skepticism.
“I definitely wouldn’t drink out of the sink water in my dorm, I fill up my water bottle with the fillers,” freshman Cara Quinlan said, referring to the water bottle refill stations in the residence halls.
Freshman Megan Dwyer tends to avoid drinking from the tap, and also views the filter refill stations in campus buildings with a pinch of doubt due to their light indicators of when the filters need to be replaced.
“Sometimes it’s on yellow, which skeeves me out a little, but it says it’s filtered, which makes it seem a little better, but I usually prefer a more filtered Brita or a water bottle,” Dwyer said.
In terms of additional water filtering people may utilize like Brita water filters, Saxe said that it’s very important to change the filters as recommended due to the decreased efficacy of the filters when overused and the potential for bacteria to accumulate in the filters.
Saxe said that she also recommends that people check out their locality’s annual water quality report, which the City of Newark, for example, publicly releases each year.
“Knowledge is power,” Saxe said. “If you know what’s going on then you’re better armed to make a decision.”
According to Filasky, if there ever was an issue with Newark’s water supply, the City would immediately reach out to the affected people. However, both Filasky and Neimeister said that residents should feel as confident as they do about the quality and safety of Newark’s water.
“The most important thing is to know that it’s safe and we literally have people here 24/7 to ensure that the drinking water is safe,” Filasky said.