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Opinion: Keep drinking Atlanta’s tap water
A few days ago, I, along with thousands of other Atlanta residents, was told that my water is not safe to drink. The Atlanta Department of Watershed issued a citywide boil water advisory due to a malfunction in the Hemphill Water Treatment plant.
Suddenly the rest of the city was joining me in thinking about their access to safe water, which is how I spend my days as an associate professor of environmental health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. Usually my focus is on conditions in the developing world, but this time the concerns were in my backyard.
The first thing that many people will do in reaction to this event is to go out and buy bottled water, which was a sensible response for the duration of the boil water advisory (although you could also simply boil or chlorinate your tap water to make it safe).
Unfortunately, after the boil water advisory is lifted, many people will have lost faith in their tap water, and will continue to purchase bottled water indefinitely. This has far-reaching consequences.
While counterintuitive, and probably not your first thought when we are under a citywide boil water advisory, buying bottled water will in fact reduce our collective access to safe water.
There are several reasons for this:
First, while you might think that bottled water is safer than tap water, in fact testing and standards are usually more rigorous, frequent and transparent for water supplied by public utilities. [https://islandpress.org/books/bottled-and-sold] While a boil water advisory might seem scary, in fact it is an indication that systems to ensure that we are drinking safe water are working exactly as planned. Imagine how hard it is to find out that your bottled water was recalled once it hits the market.
Second, bottle water costs way more than tap water, on average 300 times more per gallon, and up to 2,000 times more for those standard-size bottles of water that you get at events around the city. You are already paying for clean water when you pay your taxes, why pay for it again, and at an absurd markup?
Third, drinking bottled water is not a sustainable practice. You’ve probably already heard about how the plastic bottles mostly end up in the ocean. What’s more, it takes a lot of energy and generates more pollution to make bottled water. Production and transportation of bottled water generates 180 times more CO2 emissions per liter than tap water.
Finally, and what I think is ultimately the most important, is that the more people buy and rely on bottled water the less support there will be for investing in the maintenance of our public water system. In many of the countries around the world where I work, there is little expectation from consumers (or the providers) that piped water should be safe to drink.
We have the great privilege in this country to drink clean water directly out of our taps. That privilege is based on an extensive system of engineering standards, public health measures, and laws developed to protect our public safety. The development of systems to provide us with safe drinking water was fundamental to our country’s growth and development as an international superpower.
If we reduce demand for water from public utilities, we will lose the expectation that those utilities provide us all with safe piped water.
In other words, every time you buy bottled water you undermine that system, and increase the chances for the next boil water advisory, or worse, the next Flint.
Of course, if you live in a place like Flint, where the public water system has been compromised, then this argument does not hold. But in Atlanta this week the city was able to rapidly spread the message about the water pressure problems, issue an advisory designed to address it, and rapidly resolve the problem. This is an indication that we should trust even more in our tap water, and redouble our investments to protect this precious resource.
So please, now that the boil water advisory has lifted, join me in visiting your nearest public water fountain and taking a big sip of water, and taking a moment to appreciate our great luck in being able to do so.
Karen Levy, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS), an approach to urban sanitation that involves collaboration among many actors to ensure that everyone benefits from adequate sanitation service delivery outcomes. CWIS aims to help cities develop comprehensive approaches to sanitation improvement that encompass long-term planning, technical innovation, institutional reforms, and financial mobilization.
The concept of CWIS has been gaining traction among development practitioners. At World Water Week 2018 in Stockholm, the World Bank and other partners released an official Call to Action for all stakeholders to “embrace a radical shift in urban sanitation practices deemed necessary to achieve citywide inclusive sanitation.” This issue of Currents was compiled with help from the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Click here to view the CWIS Workshop Video.
The 2018-2019 CGSW Seminar Series kicked-off with a lecture co-sponsored by the Environmental Health Department. Dr. Diego Ramirez-Lovering of Monash University in Australia discussed his research which examines the contributory role that architecture and urbanism can play in addressing the significant challenges facing contemporary urban environments -climate change, resource limitations and rapid population growth with a key focus on the Global South. ” Alternative Interventions: Revitalizing Informal Settlements and Their Environments (RISE)” Revitalizing Informal Settlements and Their Environments (RISE) is an action-research program working at the intersections of health, environment, and water and sanitation. RISE is trialing a new water sensitive approach to water and sanitation management in 24 informal settlements across Makassar, Indonesia and Suva, Fiji.
Dr. Christopher Sistrunk from City of Hope, Beckman Research Institute entitled Safe to Drink: How Drinking Water in the US can be Hazardous to Your Health. This presentation gave a glimpse into how drinking water deemed safe to drink by the US EPA, may actually lead to chronic illnesses through changes in epigenetics. This lecture will be available on our seminar series page at the end of the year.
On October 5, 2018, Dr. Christoper Manganiello and Jessica Sterling of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper return to discuss the Supreme Court verdict on the transboundary “water wars” between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The lecture will be held in the Claudia Nance Rollins Building, Room 1000 from 12-1 pm.
For World Toilet Day 2018, Emory’s own SANIPATH team of researchers will present their work on fecal exposure pathways and Ga Tech Alumnus and Wish for WASH founder Jasmine Burton will present on innovative solutions for increasing sanitation access. Wish for WASH is a social impact organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally-specific research, design, and education because #EVERYBODYPOOPS. More info and details soon.
Stay tuned, as we will be hosting an informative and exciting lecture series this year!
From the blog post by Habib Yakubu, CGSW Fellow
For the original article click here
My work takes me to low-income urban communities all over the world, from India to Ghana, wherever possible fecal contamination could lead to the rise of diseases that sicken or kill. That’s because I work on the SaniPath project, an assessment which aims to increase the evidence base available to sanitation policy makers and implementers in low-income urban communities. It is designed to assess public health risks related to poor sanitation and to help prioritize sanitation investments based on the exposures that have the greatest public health impact…..For more, click here
Residents of Ndirande, a township located almost 3km from Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre are captured at Nasolo River. The river is one of the main sources of water for household chores for most families.
To watch the entire presentation, click here! The presentation starts at 9:00 min
An interactive session of presentations and discussions about the water situation in Puerto Rico featuring:
Carl A. Soderberg, P.E. – Graduate of Georgia Tech and a licensed engineer in Puerto Rico who has has spent 48 yrs. in environmental protection, including 20 yrs. as Director of the EPA Caribbean Division and 16 yrs. in the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board. Mr. Soderberg will discuss the water resources issues in Puerto Rico, including fresh water availability, assimilation capacity of rivers and streams, water hyacinths and many more characteristics of water in Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria.
Juan Villeta-Trigo, Ph.D.(c) – Economist with forensic experience in courts. One of the founding members of the Puerto Rico Water and Health Institute at the School of Environmental Affairs of the Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico; and one of the founders and Past President of the Puerto Rico Economists Association. Mr. Villeta-Trigo will discuss the economic costs of the 2015 drought in Puerto Rico. He will address the scarcity of water, its challenges and opportunities.
Ashley Andujar, MHSA – CDC Health Communications Specialist who was deployed to Puerto Rico after the emergency to coordinate health communication messaging regarding waterborne disease risks.
In 2012, the CGSW introduced the Certificate in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) at the Rollins School of Public Health. The WASH Certificate is a rigorous, self-guided certificate program that aims to increase the competitiveness of RSPH students for WASH-related careers. Graduate students pursuing the Certificate complete a minimum set of credit hours of WASH-related coursework, attend CGSW seminars and complete a WASH-related thesis, practicum or capstone. For detailed information about the WASH Certificate program, please click here.
NEW! To watch the webinar about the WASH Certificate Program, click here.
ATLANTA — Karen Levy, PhD, MPH, associate professor of Environmental Health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, was recently selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as a 2017-2018 Public Engagement Fellow. Levy is one of 15 infectious disease researchers in the second cohort of the AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science.
AAAS recognizes researchers who have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their research careers, and interest in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society. Future cohorts will focus on other areas of science, particularly topics with a science-society nexus and scholarship in related communication research. The new follows will be recognized at a reception on Thursday, February 16th at 4pm at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
Levy’s work explores how environmental factors affect the transmission and incidence of infectious diseases, focusing on the ecology and epidemiology of food- and water-borne diseases. She leads projects in both international and domestic study sites, including studies on transmission of diarrheal pathogens, household water quality, climate and waterborne disease, the spread of antibiotic resistance, the gut microbiome, and safety of agricultural irrigation water.
Levy earned her PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007 and has since published several op-eds and news stories in major media outlets and served as a Public Voices fellow at Emory in 2012-2014.
“Dr. Levy’s essential contributions to infectious disease research and leadership are widely recognized,” says James Curran, MD, MPH, who is the James W. Curran Dean of Public Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “Her selection as an AAAS fellow further highlights her outstanding commitment to positive outcomes and advancements within the field.”
The new AAAS Public Engagement Fellows will convene in June 2017 at AAAS headquarters in Washington, DC for a week of intensive public engagement and science communication training, networking, and public engagement plan development. After the training, AAAS Public Engagement Fellows will return to their institutions with resources and connections to develop and implement public engagement activities, opportunities for training other scientists in their communities, and increased capacity for public engagement leadership. AAAS staff will provide ongoing support and continuing professional development throughout their fellowship year. For the article from SCIENCE, click here.
Dr. Edwards is an expert on water treatment and corrosion. His research team exposed lead contamination of public drinking water supplies in Washington, DC and Flint, MI. Edwards was named a MacArthur Genius in 2007, was awarded the Walter Huber Research Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2003, the State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award in 2006, and the Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University in 2010. Time magazine dubbed him “The Plumbing Professor” and featured him as one of the United States’ most innovative scientists in 2004. In 2013, Edwards was the 9th recipient (in a quarter century) of the IEEE Barus Award for “courageously defending the public interest at great personal risk.”
Dr. Edwards delivered an inspiring and provocative talk today as the Distinguished Lecturer in Environmental Health for 2016. He told the story of his involvement in exposing both the Flint and DC water crises, to a packed crowd at Rollins School of Public Health Auditorium. To watch the entire presentation, please click here.
World Water Day 2015: Flint Water: What Happens When Regulations Fail?
World Toilet Day 2015 – Cop a Squat and lecture & panel discussion with visiting sanitation experts from SWA, WHO, World Bank moderated by Susan Davis, Improve International
World Water Day 2014 – GREEN WATER: Examining Health, Human Rights, and Business Impacts of Water Privatization
World Water Day 2013 – Water, Sanitation, Hygiene: Transforming Lives