Tests not Taste:  The Key to Checking Drinking Water Safety    

There’s a frequently asked question on the EPA’s Web site that would, at first glance, seem almost silly. “Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it, or smelling it?”

The answer, of course, is no. It goes on to say, “None of the chemicals or microbes that can make you sick can be seen, tasted, or smelled.”

Fair enough. That leaves water testing. And just who is checking drinking water for safety? The short answer is your water system. Private wells are another story. The EPA doesn’t regulate them, and many states and towns don’t require sampling, though the EPA recommends owners test their own water.

Otherwise, most systems use private certified laboratories to analyze drinking water. A few systems operate their own state-certified labs and test themselves. Results from the labs are sent to the water systems and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Drinking Water Worries: ADEM Conducts New Tests. North Alabama System Seeks Governor’s Help. Callers Flood County Health Departments.

Representatives of North Alabama’s West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority met with Gov. Robert Bentley’s staff Friday to request bottled water and other alternative sources of water for its 100,000 customers, who are advised not to drink the system’s water for now.

The system is operating under an advisory from the Environmental Protection Agency that its water has unsafe levels of PFOS and PFOA contaminants. Read more.

North Alabama residents want an answer. Have years of drinking Tennessee River water been safe?

UPDATE: The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new health advisory on long-term exposure to PFOA and PFOS contaminants in drinking water. Tests of water from the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority, featured in this story, showed PFOA and PFOS contaminants above the level that might cause health problems, EPA says.

A new question of safe drinking water is playing out in North Alabama. There, residents and the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against 3M, maker of products from Scotchgard to Post-It Notes, in connection with toxins in the water supply.

The EPA is expected to release new guidelines on safe levels of the contaminants this spring.

There’s conflict brewing over who might foot the bill if a cleanup is in order.Read More.

Fine-Collection Company Stops Work in Alabama

Judicial Correction Services, the private probation company that charged Alabama’s poorest residents fees to collect municipal fines on a payment plan, announced it will no longer operate in the state. The company sent a statement to cities that continued to contract with JCS, despite a threat of lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which led the push for cities to stop working with JCS.

Alabama Cities Act Quickly, End Deals with Company Criticized for Collection Tactics

About half of the 100 Alabama cities that once contracted with a private probation company, JCS, have cancelled their agreements for the company to collect city debts.

The cancellations come after the Southern Poverty Law Center in June settled a lawsuit with Clanton, Ala, which had used JCS. The SPLC told officials there, and in about 100 other municipalities, that JCS contracts are illegal and that the company’s fine-collection tactics can amount to extortion.

The quick reaction by local governments around the state makes less likely stories like that of Sakeena White, a single mother of three.