AP Water Series Highlights Information Blackout

March 12, 2008

Can the public be trusted with information about drugs in their drinking water?

Apparently not, according to a chorus of industry-paid experts from the drinking water business. The Associated Press made some waves with a series about trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in municipal drinking water systems across the country March 9-11, 2008. One whole installment was headed: "Cities Rarely Release Water Test Results."

Yet in most cases those test results are public information, and the AP investigative team's persistence overcame the municipal utilities reluctance to provide them. The AP found drugs in the water supplied to customers by utilities in 24 major metropolitan areas.

"When water providers find pharmaceuticals in drinking water, they rarely tell the public," the AP wrote. "When researchers make the same discoveries, they usually don't identify the cities involved."

"There are plenty of reasons offered for the secrecy: concerns about national security, fears of panic, a feeling that the public will not understand - even confidentiality agreements," the AP story said.

Typical of the responses AP got was this: "Initially balking at the AP's request to provide test results, Philadelphia Water Department spokeswoman Laura Copeland said, 'It would be irresponsible to communicate to the public about this issue, as doing so would only generate questions that scientific research has not yet answered. We don't want to create the perception where people would be alarmed.'"