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This month, the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on a timely issue in Pittsburgh—water quality. Jennifer Jones, MPH, community engagement senior coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute, discussed this topic with Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

EB: Good morning, Jennifer. So many people are talking about water quality in Pittsburgh right now.

JJ: I know. We scheduled this topic a few months ago. But now is the perfect time to discuss this, especially given recent events with the boil water advisory that affected many city residents last month.

EB: This is a topic that I feel very passionate about. Americans have a tendency to think that water is not a problem here because we’re not a developing nation. Recent local events, and other news stories from around the country, show us that water safety and quality are issues we need to be concerned about in the United States—and also worldwide.

JJ: Yes, I agree. I don’t pretend to be an expert on water. I’m glad that we have expert researchers, like Dr. Aaron Barchowsky from Pitt Public Health, who study water and the environment. Water quality is an important public health issue. Water is the most basic human necessity. Water helps our bodies to flush out harmful toxins (poisons), carries nutrients to our cells, gives us energy and promotes healthy skin. The majority of our body composition—approximately 60 percent—is water.

EB: Jennifer, can you tell me a little bit about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) work with water?

JJ: Sure. The EPA is a government organization with a mission to protect human health and the environment. This includes air, land and soil and water quality. The organization does a lot of research about harmful toxins. It provide laws and regulations. In the case of water, approximately 286 million people (88 percent of the total population) get their water from public water systems. These water systems are regulated by the EPA. Even with regulations and testing, water contamination can happen, making drinking water unsafe. Contamination can come from sewage releases; chemicals like lead, arsenic or radon; or land use practices, like pesticides. When contamination occurs, negative health effects can result, especially in children and pregnant women.

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