June 25, 2006

Baltimore's Bureau of Water and Wastewater took out a half-page ad in this newspaper last week to present its annual water quality report, and it was positively eye-popping, not because the information in it was especially alarming - to the contrary, if you do a little (figurative) digging, it turns out the water coming out of the tap is as hunky-dory as ever - but because the ad helpfully lists such crucial statistics as the MCLG and MCL and HLD of the Total THMs and HAA (5). Also, it was in really teeny type.

We called Joseph Johnson, the water treatment assistant manager, who helped make sense of it all.

THM, for instance, is trihalomethane, a chlorination byproduct you'd rather not have, and the city's water mostly doesn't (just 44 to 48 parts per billion, easily within the comfort zone). And so on, through the bacteria that could make you sick tomorrow and the chemical pollution that over, say, 70 years could start to make you not at all healthy.

So, why such dense technical language in what is, after all, a family newspaper? Mr. Johnson said the feds require it. "You can't have pure water," he said, so every system in the country has to report, in detail, on the impurities it finds. Baltimore? Flying colors.

Two years ago, City Hall had the bright idea of bottling the water and selling it. The bureau gave it a try, but it didn't really pan out. It's OK. Filling up at the sink is even better - and a lot cheaper.

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