A little more than a year ago, the Houston Press brought you a story about a growing movement aimed at ditching those store-bought plastic bottles of water for the stuff that flows from the tap. After all, advocates claimed, tap water is safe, cheap and environmentally friendly.
Then The New York Times dropped a bomb Sunday when it published its investigation claiming that tap water is anything but safe. Among the paper's findings, 40 percent of the country's public water systems have at one point been in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and one in 10 Americans has been exposed to drinking water containing dangerous chemicals.
Not good news for the pro-tap water crowd. Or at least you'd think.
But leave it to the good folks at the Think Outside the Bottle campaign, based in Boston, to try to turn potentially crippling news into a positive.
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"The knee-jerk reaction is certainly to say, 'Well, we found these problems in tap water so let's find an alternative to drink,'" the organization's spokesman, Nick Guroff, tells Hair Balls. "And I think some portion of the bottled-water industry will capitalize on this, but it's certainly critical to take the long view and a hard look at what's causing these problems and look to address them so a family living on minimum wage doesn't have to buy something in a bottle because they can't rely on city water."
Last year, the Houston Press tested local tap water to make sure it passed the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. It did. The Times has set up a database listing all the Houston-area facilities that have permits to discharge pollutants, potentially into the drinking water, and which ones have at some point violated EPA standards.
Guroff says he hopes the Times story will serve the same kind of wake-up call to the public that the deadly 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis provided.
"We see stimulus dollars going to repairing roads," says Guroff, "and maybe this New York Times piece is the moment at which we say, 'We really need to look closely at these public water systems.' The bottom line for us is that we need to invest greater resources in our public-water infrastructure."