Since the title of this blog implies it is supposed to occasionally be about water issues, here's a deep one for ya. If you're looking for light banter you can quit reading now.
This morning while watching the news I heard a story about a "new" report that found trace amounts of many different types of pharmaceuticals in drinking water in many major cities around the country. The drugs included antibiotics, anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen and the like), mood elevators, and sex hormones from birth control, etc. This story was repeated several times in a way that was designed to be shocking to people. How did these drugs end up in drinking water? Simple, the went through people's bodies, got flushed down the toilet, and went through the wastewater treatment system, ending up out in the river, which is the source of the drinking water system. Sound gross?
This is not news to me, being a water industry professional. These compounds, known as "personal care products" or micro-contaminates...we have lots of names for them...are being studied in wastewater and drinking water systems worldwide. The effects of things like estrogen on aquatic life is being studied, but we have no idea if these teensy tiny amounts of drugs will have any longterm affects on humans. The fact is that these chemicals are really hard and expensive to test for, and are unregulated. They are not removed completely in standard treatment plants. One of the most interesting things I'm involved with now is a research project to study how the technology I design and sell might help treat these compounds.
So the environmentalist in me says maybe they ought to be regulated. But the economist in me knows that such regulations would cost billions of dollars, probably not in federal money but in the form of drastically increased water and sewer rates and city tax rates, for something that we really don't know how much of a health risk it is, right now it appears to not be much risk at all.
This is always the trade-off with me, the conflict in my mind is that I usually feel I just don't know enough of the details to make a sound judgement on it...whether the cost is justified to offset the potential risk. My bottom line opinion is that if the Democrats take office, it will likely be great for my industry, but really bad for my own personal pocketbook and for the economy as a whole.