Posts tagged ‘environmental statistics’

March 7, 2012

To Drink or Not To Drink the Water? That is the Question…

Statistics for Action has some answers.

Environmental organizers and citizen groups encounter math-dense technical documents in their day-to-day livelihoods—including test results, permit applications, environmental impact statements, and risk assessments. How often do they read them and help their communities make sense of them? Because of Statistics for Action (SfA)—now, more than ever.

Thankfully, too. I recently moved to Cambridge and became painfully aware of my own rusty data analysis skills when I perused a copy of the 2010 Drinking Water Quality Report. I tried to imagine if the ‘high reading’ of 2.6 ppm (parts per million) of chlorine in Cambridge tap water would be discernible by taste—and how this 2.6 ppm might compare to the 4.0 ppm of chlorine that is the MRDL (maximum residual disinfectant level) and how that 4.0 might compare to the ppm chlorine content of—let’s say—pool water. And what I really didn’t get was whether or not that 2.6 ppm of chlorine recorded in Cambridge water was definitively a good number or a bad one. Stay with me here—2.6 ppm seemed relatively good as compared to 4.0 ppm, but was there an optimal proportion of chlorine to water? Should I still drink the water?*

Needless to say, my ruminations left me with way more questions than answers. My analysis skills were not just rusty—they were fully oxidized. And I know from talking to my peers and colleagues that most of us were in the same boat of not being quite able to recall those “quick math” techniques that would help us make sense of unfamiliar units.

The good news? SfA offers a downloadable activity dedicated to understanding and quantifying units  and another one dedicated just to measuring, along with a lots more statistical analysis activities that help to elucidate things like—oh—parts per million. Also, SfA has content-rich downloadable guides on water quality, soil quality, and hazardous waste. Though they are designed primarily for environmental organizers, I found them helpful and readable too.

*And in case you were curious—thanks to SfA’s guides and activities, I have determined 2.6 ppm of chlorine in tap water is still drinkable, and doesn’t pose any known toxic risk at under 4.0 ppm.

Check out this video on one of my favorite topics of late—yes, that would be water. Martha weighs in contamination in surface water and concerns about tap water vs. bottled water quality.

Another great tool SfA offers—video! And now the truly exciting bit of this blog—SfA’s Project Director, Martha Merson, is featured on a panel for the Eco-AlertTV with Nadine Patrice series, 3 episodes of which are airing on Miami’s WLRN (public television station) twice weekly, from March 4th-24th with a premiere date of Wednesday, March 7th. For all you Floridians, these episodes will air on Wednesday evenings from 8:30-9:30 p.m.(EST) and Saturday evenings from 10:00-11:00 p.m.(EST). And for all you other citizens of the world, the videos are available on the Statistics for Action website here.

See you next week with thoughts from the “EdGE” of TERC!


SfA is made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation (grant #DRL-0812954). SfA Partners include the Toxics Action Center, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the New England Literacy Resource Center, Pesticide Watch, the River Network, and Operation Green Leaves.