It’s not every day that the town you grew up in shows up in a front-page story in the Times. Unfortunately, that’s rarely a good thing when it does happen. This morning while reading the paper, I noticed that the town my sister and I went to school in (because our town didn’t have a high school), where a lot of our friends are from, was one of the towns cited for their contaminated water.

This particular borough tested high since 2004 for arsenic and dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethyline, both carcinogens. The town has not been fined, but it has installed filtration systems to deal with the problem. But still, cheerful stuff we’re dealing with here.

And this town is just one in the group that makes up about 20 percent of U.S. water systems that have in some way violated the Safe Drinking Water Act over the past five years.

Even more cheerful, studies show that millions of illnesses can be linked to dirty drinking water every year. In the past five years, a reported 49 million illnesses have been attributed to contamination by substances such as arsenic, radioactive material like uranium, and dangerous bacteria found in sewage. Worse, only some 6 percent of violating systems have been fined or punished by state or federal official.

However, the Environment Protection Agency is expected to propose a new policy today for how it polices our country’s 54,700 water systems. While I find these kinds of proclamations encouraging, I can’t help but feel like there’s the way a policy looks on paper and then the way it is enforced in the real world. I guess we shall see. At least if all my old friends start dying off, I’ll know why.

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