Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Unsafe water or just not enough taxes?

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The New York Times writes a very interesting article about water safety. It starts out with the attention-grabbing headline that millions of Americans are drinking dirty water. It then goes on to point out that only 6% of water-safety violations have resulted in fines or other government punishments.

What it does not say, however, is how many of these municipalities, after learning of the violation, went on to repair their system and later become compliant. After all, as far as public health is concerned, the important issue is that the water is cleaned up, not that somebody is forced to pay a large fine.

Unfortunately, the only references to this in the article are vague handwaving terms like "hundreds of other systems" (out of how many? A thousand? A million?) and "many". What percentage of systems were fixed quickly? What percentage were fixed after a long delay? What percentage have not been fixed after a long time? That, we don't know. It could be 0.01%, 5% or 95% without affecting the text as-written.

So what is really going on here? Do we really have a crisis of people drinking contaminated water? Or do we just have some Congresscritters looking for another scare tactic to blame the Bush Administration for (which the article explicitly does)? Do they think cleanup is lacking or do they just want to impose more fines?

Unfortunately, the New York Times will be of no help answering these questions.