Sedina L. Banks

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There’s a “Canary” in My Water – EPA Software Detects Hazardous Contaminants in Drinking Water Systems

Bringing to mind the old adage “canary in a coalmine,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week its innovative water quality software aptly named “Canary.” Developed by EPA scientists in collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE), the Canary software can help detect chemical and biological contaminants including pesticides, metals and pathogens in drinking water.

Drinking water utilities use Canary in conjunction with water quality sensors placed throughout the water supply. Once Canary detects the contamination, a water utility can issue a “Do Not Drink” alert to prevent people from drinking the water. Initially tested in the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, according to EPA, Canary is currently being evaluated in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Singapore. This type of software may have utility beyond the public health benefit. As technological advances improve the ability to detect and interpret water quality problems, one can expect that these advances may also be used as enforcement tools.

Facilities that discharge into waters of the state are required to self-monitor and report to the appropriate governmental agencies potential water quality violations. With the development of software like Canary, it seems likely that this type of software, or something similar, will be used to immediately notify the appropriate government agencies when there is a water quality violation. By cutting out the self-reporting, regulators will be better able to police and enforce water quality requirements. For now, we will just have to wait to see what the future brings.