DC Water

Local Water Woes, No More? Advancing Safe Drinking Water Technology

By Ryann A. Williams

P3 Team shows their water filter

The SimpleWater company got their start as an EPA P3 team.

As a child growing up in Washington, D.C. I remember hearing adults talk about their concerns about the local tap water. Overheard conversations about lead content and murkiness in the water certainly got my attention. As an adult who now works at the Environmental Protection Agency, I know things have greatly improved.

Today, DC tap water is among the least of my concerns. I drink it every day. Frequent testing to confirm its safety and public awareness campaigns by DC Water (the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) have put my own worries to rest. But in other parts of the world and even in some areas of the U.S., people still have a reason to worry about their drinking water: arsenic.

Globally, millions of people are exposed to arsenic via drinking water and can suffer serious adverse health effects from prolonged exposure.

This is especially true in Bangladesh where it is considered a public health emergency. Other countries where drinking water can contain unsafe levels of arsenic include Argentina, Chile, Mexico, China, Hungary, Cambodia, Vietnam, and West Bengal (India). In addition, parts of the U.S. served by private wells or small drinking water systems also face risks due to arsenic in their drinking water.

Remedies are expensive and both energy- and chemical-intensive.

In 2007, a student team from the University of California, Berkeley won an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award for their research project aiming to help change that.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

The students set out to test a cost-effective, self-cleaning, and sustainable arsenic-removal technology that employs a simple electric current. The current charges iron particles that attract and hold on to arsenic, and are then removed by filter or settle out of the water.

By the end of their P3 funding in 2010, promising results had allowed the team to extend their field testing to Cambodia and India, and move forward with the licensing and marketing of their product to interested companies in Bangladesh and India.

Today, the same group of former Berkeley students who formed the P3 team now own a company called SimpleWater.

SimpleWater is among 21 companies that recently received a Phase One contract from EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program.

SimpleWater aims to commercialize their product and bring their track record of success in Bangladesh and India to help Americans who may be at risk from arsenic exposure in their drinking water. In particular they’re focusing on those who live in arsenic-prone areas and whose drinking water is served by private wells or small community water systems that test positive for elevated arsenic levels. (Learn more about Arsenic in Drinking Water and what to do if you think testing is needed for your water.)

Thanks to EPA support, SimpleWater is working to reduce the threat of arsenic in small drinking water systems and private wells. With their help, millions of people may soon feel safer about their drinking water, and like me, have one less big thing to worry about.

About the Author: Ryann Williams is a student services contractor with the communications team at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. When she’s not working with the team, she enjoys other team activities like soccer and football.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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How Well Do You Know Your H20?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By John Senn

I drink a lot of tap water – a glass in the morning before I leave for work, three or four throughout the work day and several more from the time I get home until I go to bed. So when I came upon a booth from the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (aka DC Water) featuring a taste test between tap water and bottled water, which I virtually never drink, I thought I would surely be able to tell the difference. But I could not; the two samples I tried tasted virtually identical.

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

I was heartened to learn that I was not alone in flunking the taste test. Last year, only about half of participants who took DC Water’s taste test were able to identify the correct sample as tap water and more than half ranked tap water as better tasting or did not taste a difference between the two.

Despite the fact that tap water is virtually free – a gallon costs consumers about a penny – many people still prefer to drink bottled water. DC Water says that figure is about 50 percent in Washington. Admittedly, tap water, especially in big cities like Washington, gets a bad rap due to incidents where public health has been compromised because of excessive pollution in the water supply. Those incidents, while well-publicized, are relatively rare and in the case of an immediate public health threat, your drinking water provided is required by law to alert its customers. In 2011, 93 percent of Americans that got their water from a public water supply received water that met federal standards for drinking water every day of the year, evidence that the U.S. enjoys one of best drinking water systems in the world.

Tap water is also regulated by EPA and local public water systems are required to provide their customers with a report about the quality of their drinking water each summer. Soon, that report will be available by email. But bottled water, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is important to have stockpiled in case of an emergency situations or natural disasters when your tap water may be unavailable or compromised for several days.

And regardless of whether you can tell the difference between tap water and bottled water, you can get more information about your drinking water on our website or by contacting your local provider.

About the author: John Senn is the deputy communications director in EPA’s Office of Water and also serves as a member of the Agency’s emergency response team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.