When I was about twelve, my mom and I had stopped at Target and got a Brita water dispenser. It wasn’t particularly large; it should have held about 18 cups worth of water. But, the thing is, when we went through the box once we were home, there was something I wasn’t expecting: a thin cobalt blue, small, electronic device. A water tester. Suddenly, I realized why my mom was willing to spend $30 on a fancy pitcher.
The thing is, during the week prior, my family had watched a large collection of documentaries about water; we started with marine life, and then the binge-watching moved on to shows about water quality standards. One of them must have triggered something in my mom because the next day we went to Target.
We ended up returning the water dispenser kit; it was simply just too small for a family of six. However, the water tester accidentally stayed because I wasn’t paying attention when I was packing the box. By the time we realized that the tester was still in our house, we had already thrown away the receipt.
With a water tester and no dispenser, my mom checked the water that we had been drinking. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best, much less even that good. Since we lived in Michigan at the time, a place with so many water sources like the Great Lakes, it was mystifying.
Nonetheless, my mom was determined to find better water, and so the tester received its own special pocket in my mom’s bag. If we were at a friend's house, she would check the quality. One of the most memorable moments, was when she had tested the water that one of her friends bought and had delivered to her house. Filling a small cup with the clear liquid, we found out that even water from health stores couldn't be trusted.
But why did we even need the water tester, and what did it test for?
There is something called the Total of the Dissolved Solids or (TDS), that the tester would display on its small screen. The higher the number, the worse the water was. Likewise, the lower the number, the better.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency or the EPA, “Water quality standards (WQS) are provisions of state, territorial, authorized tribal or federal law approved by EPA that describe the desired condition of a water body and the means by which that condition will be protected or achieved.” This law is in effect in places where there are a lot of aquatic organisms, recreational purposes, boating, etc.
Different places have different TDS; most of the time it's simply basic minerals which can lead to saltier tasting water, but there are two chemical elements found in water that are problematic; aluminum and lead.
Aluminum in some places, such as Europe, is used to purify water. The process works like this: while aluminum is one of the most abundant metals in the world, it is never found by itself as it has chemically bonded with any other material near it. Break the bond, and aluminum needs to find something else. When the aluminum is then poured into unclean water, it bonds with the strongest thing it can find: the dirt in the water.
Lead, on the other hand, is one of the main reasons that I even chose this topic to write about. If you recall, in 2014, the water that the city of Flint, Michigan, was using changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to a closer and cheaper alternative, the Flint River.
Due to the fact that there were corners cut to make the switch cheaper, the water pipes weren’t checked. In the end, 12 people died from Legionnaires' disease. Much of the rest of the population suffered from side effects that come with a dangerously high level of lead in their bodies.
On April 6, 2018, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ended the free bottled water program, claiming that the lead levels in the water are “Now well within the standards.” A pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who strongly disapproves of this course of action tweeted out, "This is wrong. Until all lead pipes are replaced, state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents.” Many Flint residents have said that they don’t trust the water, which is understandable as it has harmed either them or someone they know.
I frankly believe that ending the program is unacceptable and wrong. The government got into this trouble for cutting corners, and now it feels like they are doing it again. Thanks to their blunder, the younger generation of Flint will now suffer from behavior and development problems.
While I know that not everyone's mother carries around a water tester in her purse, I feel that everyone should have access to clean water. The details around water quality should be anything but murky; let's make it crystal clear.
Firdaws Hakizimana is a student at Maine Virtual Academy. She produced this piece during a Raise Your Voice Workshop at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science sponsored by Maine Public and the University of Maine Writing Project.