Officials knowingly and discreetly added cancer causing chemicals to Sacramento’s water supply to save the city money. This is an ethical problem because it not only puts the health of the city’s residents in jeopardy by allowing them to consume carcinogens, but they kept it a secret and did not give them any knowledge of the dangers associated with drinking the water or any say in what is put into their drinking water.
The city needs to find a solution to this problem and fix it, and also inform residents of any changes to their drinking water or anything that has to do with human consumption and their health and well-being. Next, the residents need to have a say in what goes in their drinking water, especially if it could possibly harm them, no matter if it will save the city money. Lastly, the effected persons need to be physically and emotionally cared for and compensated.
The city of Sacramento violated the Safe Drinking Water Act where EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards. The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to set national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants that may be found in drinking water. US EPA, states, and water systems then work together to make sure that these standards are met. Obviously, these standards weren’t met in this situation. There is data showing dozens of readings in excess of the EPA standard of 80 parts-per-billion during the year-long trial. In the Westlake neighborhood, near Sleep Train Arena, during a two-month period between August and October 2013, 11 of 13 readings were above EPA limits. Then in March of 2014, readings were way up across the city. Some people were drinking water with DBP levels above 130 parts-per-billion.
There were violations of public trust of city, government and media. The city couldn’t be trusted to make sure the water was at safe enough levels to drink because they wanted to save some money. But even more, the government didn’t work with the state of California to make sure the correct standards were met. Then, the media let the residents down buy not adequately covering this story. This was only covered locally and then swept under the rug in hopes of not making the state capitol look bad. Had this been covered nationally, the city officials would have been forced to do something about this right away and most likely been dealt a heavy fine, investigated, and possibly fired.
The ethical concept of “Does the ends justify the means?” was called into question. Is putting people’s health and well-being in danger worth saving some money? According to Sacramento’s Utility Director, Bill Busath, yes! He was stated saying, “There was an expectation that we would be able to save quite a bit of money.” Is that all that matters? Also, were the city officials being altruistic or selfish? Were they actually trying to find a correct and ethical way to give the residents safe drinking water or were they trying to find a cheap, subpar way to save money? I would say the latter.
The Sacramento city residents were deceived into thinking they were receiving safe drinking water. There was also a violation of the Community Right to Know Law which is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. It is embodied in federal law in the United States as well as in local laws in several states, including California. Under the Community Right to know Act is the Emergency Release Reports, which they failed to produce as well. These reports are made whenever a facility accidentally releases a hazardous material that could cause harm to health or the environment. Following the report, the facility is required to submit a follow-up report describing actions taken to respond and control the accidental release. None of these things happened. The residents were also exposed to physical harm as the consequences were cancer, miscarriages and birth defects, as well as emotional harm.
Another question is where is the city getting the money to perform these dangerous experiments? Most likely the money comes from tax dollars, so the people of Sacramento are essentially paying to be poisoned. So in an attempt to save some money, they were willing to put thousands of people’s lives at risk.
The residents were basically treated as laboratory guinea pigs, in that they were exposed to unacceptable levels of trihalomethanes for up to one year without any notification whatsoever. They weren’t even aware the first chemical, ALUM, had been added to their drinking water — much less the cancer-causing chemical soup that resulted as a byproduct of this reckless experiment.