It’s in all our best interests to know what chemicals have been found in our drinking water.
But oddly enough, the government doesn’t make that information easy for people to find.
Largely that’s because multiple organizations on the state and federal levels have authority over the quality of our water, so the information is not all maintained in a single location where people can easily look it up.
Still, the information is public information and we all have a right to access it.
So we should all thank the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) for doing the difficult work for us by creating a searchable online database on the quality of public water in public systems around the state.
The website is called “What’s in My Water,” and can be found at www.nypirg.org/whatsinmywater.
It allows residents to search for drinking water profiles of more than 2,300 public water systems, which provide water to about 80 percent of New Yorkers. (The rest get their water from private sources such as wells.)
To find out information in your area, simply plug in your ZIP Code.
The information included contains recent testing data on contamination — both regulated and unregulated contaminants — found in local water systems, as well as a map in which residents can find out potential threats to their drinking water supplies.
The information was compiled from various government sources, including reports and websites maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state departments of Environmental Conservation, Health, and Home and Community Renewal. The records cover the years 2013-2016.
So say you plug in one of Schenectady’s ZIP Codes, 12308. What will pop up is information about three local public water systems serving that area — the Glenville Water District #11, Niskayuna Consolidated Water District #11 and the Schenectady City Water Works.
Click on “list of contaminants” and you’ll get a breakdown of the times a certain chemical reached a level that violated standards set by law. You’ll also see testing levels for unregulated contaminants, as well as the chemicals for which contamination was not detected.
Once you’re done reading the chemical report, go back and click on the link for “View Map of Potential Threats in This ZIP Code.”
Up will pop a map of the potential sources of toxic threats, identified on the map by a colored symbol for such sources as the federal Toxic Relief Inventory, state and federal Superfund sites, solid waste disposal sites, power stations and other potential sources of contamination. You can zoom out to get a broader look at the regional threats.
The site has admitted limitations. For instance, the information was obtained from public sources, which might not be complete or accurate. Still, this “one-stop-shopping” tool is a valuable resource about the quality of our drinking water.
If you see something on the site that concerns you, share those concerns with your local government officials and ask questions until you’re satisfied with the answers.