Kianna Marquez: Water we doing?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 2:29pm

The water filter in the Chemistry Building was still broken today, leaving its attached drinking fountain completely unusable. I think to myself, “For a city that has a knack for self-sustenance, isn’t that kind of disappointing?” Resources both tangible and intangible are plentiful here in Ann Arbor, so it’s always striking when I see it slacking. 

In 2014, the EPA required cities to test their water systems for a series of chemicals. Ann Arbor complied and found the high rates of PFAS. PFAS are essentially man-made chemicals that are difficult to break down in any setting. As expected, exposure to these chemicals has adverse health effects, such as damage to the immune system, cancer, birth defects and thyroid hormone disruption. Our health can be jeopardized by these chemicals and there’s no doubt that the quality of our grass, ponds, trees, hills and air is at stake as well.

It’s not in our control — nor should it necessarily be our responsibility — to maintain the prevalence of these chemicals in the environment around us. This type of professionalism and protection should come from the industries that use and contain these chemicals: manufacturing plants and landfills. The city of Ann Arbor discovered the chemicals due to runoff from these types of urban settings, and the reason we didn’t know they were there in the first place is because our local manufacturing plants and landfill maintenance teams do not prioritize informing the city about the risks that can result from the work they do, or even worse, they are not even aware of how their work can produce these threatening chemicals.

I understand that the information we collectively have regarding the hazards of PFAS is somewhat minimal because it’s a relatively new chemical that’s in the beginning stages of study. However, I don’t understand how industry has proceeded to use or produce it without considering its potential harmful consequences. We should have industrial centers that put quality of life at the forefront of their work. It’s not enough to find solutions to the issues we create for ourselves; those who have the ability to make decisions for household items production and for maintaining our infrastructure need to think about preventing an issue before it even happens. This is a worldwide phenomenon, one almost an impossible one to change at this point, I know that. Despite this, we deserve a healthy life for ourselves and the organisms in our ecosystems, and I am more than willing to come together in this step toward bringing attention to our society’s workings that threaten well-being.

 Ann Arbor officials have asked for $850,000 from the City Council to upgrade the filtration system of its water treatment plant to reduce the risk of contamination in its filtered drinking water. Using new technology to execute this goal, the water treatment plant staff  will fully fund this attempt to restore the quality of the river, as it should. Currently, the city has resumed testing and has measured its drinking water at conditions that already exceed the standards of the EPA, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,and several other centers for disease control.

However, water treatment manager Brian Steglitz predicts even better conditions after new filters are added, stating, “PFOS/PFOA levels in the drinking water will be reliably below 10-ppt.” He and the water treatment plant staff are urged the decision to be made this month about the amount of money that the city will allow for this restoration. It’s imperative that we use the resources we have to allow ourselves to perform the best we can. There are cities that are unable to concentrate their efforts into a particular sector that is struggling to maintain a consistent output, especially if its people have little to no actual care for it, because they are preoccupied with the issues of other more prominent sectors.

But I know that the city I just described is not Ann Arbor. I am proud to live in a city and attend a university that cares now more than ever before about the impact of its actions on the quality of our local environment. I valued being raised in a community that values quality and is mindful of making itself available and adaptable so that everything and everyone can coexist. People in this city don’t deserve to be scolded for its shortcomings that occur when other corporations or government bodies function with ignorance, so I am teeming with urgency for this city. I want it to do better in the ways that it can. I want people to take it upon themselves to fix the disparity we have in front us between abundant capability and subpar output. Be determined to fix what’s irreparable. Demand more from each other. Give us the clean water that should be easily accessible and treatable here out of all places. Invest in the water filter.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.