Friday, May 29

Water contamination one of many safety concerns requiring better flow of info


With "forever chemicals" being reported in Southern California's water supply this year, it's pertinent that UCLA keep its community members informed that their water supply is harmless. (Daily Bruin file photo)


If there was something in the water, people would want to know about it.

But even if there isn’t, it’s still worth keeping the public in the loop.

In the last year, there has been a rise in reporting on “forever chemicals” in Southern California’s water supply, and Californians became rightfully concerned after a state water quality report was released detailing the safety of their tap water. Glendale, Orange County, Anaheim and other areas were found to have contaminated water wells.

The “forever chemicals” are polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS for short. Risks of PFAS exposure or consumption range from asthma and thyroid disease to cancer and liver damage, along with reproductive and hormonal issues. The contamination of local water supplies with these substances is clearly not without potentially severe consequences.

Fortunately, Westwood and UCLA’s water supply has been clean so far, according to an emailed statement from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

For some reason, UCLA has been silent about the safety of its own water.

There’s been no sign of any direct updates from the university, nor further support for students who call those affected cities home.

And being left in the dark about an encroaching public health issue is not beneficial for the well-being of the community, even if there is no current risk.

UCLA needs to keep students informed regarding local health risks, especially those that may affect the residential community and students’ hometowns. Even if there are no issues, students and staff deserve to know that, and the university has no reason to hide it from them. Without such a standard of communication, students will only be informed about a select few topics that affect the UCLA community instead of a wide swath of issues that can sneak their way into the lives of students and staff.

This is not just a logistical necessity, but one that creates a greater atmosphere of safety and transparency.

Communication requires talking about both the good and the bad.

Understandably, UCLA doesn’t tout negative press, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any press at all – especially in cases like these, which don’t inherently involve bad PR.

Notifications regarding safety or health risks should not only come as a reactionary measure, but as a preventive one. If resources and operations are in good condition relative to the surrounding areas, Bruins should know they have nothing to worry about.

And even if things are fine on campus, they might not be at home.

This water contamination extends beyond the geography of the campus, as Bruins come from all parts of the world, including many California cities – particularly those that were highlighted in the contamination report.

California residents made up about 70% of the 2018-2019 freshman class, according to admissions data. Many students call regions like Glendale, Orange County and the Bay Area home. It’s a widespread risk that affects a large proportion of students and their families, and it’s shortsighted for UCLA to ignore that impact.

In the event of health issues arising at home, students and staff will be put in incredibly difficult positions that have a cascading effect. The university would be wise to consider that statewide events have greater implications for student well-being than they currently account for.

And the infrastructure already exists to account for it.

Emergencies and potential areas of caution are constantly updated via resources such as email and BruinAlert, which are useful in keeping the campus community informed.

Michael Skiles, president and Land Use Committee chair of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, said in an emailed statement that a potential situation would be addressed through BruinAlert, which currently disperses information across campus.

“I imagine it would be handled like other matters of concern facing our community, like when we’ve had wildfires or the 2016 shooting,” Skiles said.

Operations may be continuing as normal, but Bruins should be officially informed about risks that may or may not be affecting them directly.

And that includes a plan in the event of exposure, along with preventative steps to alleviate the spread of misinformation in the event of a widespread health crisis, said Daniel Lai, a second-year biology student.

“It would be a good idea to notify students if they have the right information – BruinAlert was good for the recent fire since I wouldn’t have known about the danger otherwise,” Lai said.

If the campus community is only informed about things that have gone wrong, it can create a sense of complacency with other issues that aren’t brought up by the university. And complacency has no place in safety measures, especially at a large institution.

It’s true that safety and security at UCLA require a multifaceted approach. Each day brings a variety of safety and logistical concerns, ranging from fires and contaminants to police activity and laboratory accidents. Inundating students with countless emails won’t do much to help the community stay secure and could become another addition to the spam folder.

But issues such as possible water contamination, which may appear to be a nonurgent emergency, deserve the attention of the massive population they may affect. Safety for Bruins includes the spaces and people that are a part of UCLA, no matter how far home is from campus.

In order to establish a truly transparent and secure safety system at UCLA, there needs to be communication regarding both urgent and nonurgent risks to health and safety.

Contaminated water seems like an inescapable problem, but it would be nice if UCLA let students know if there was something worth escaping in the first place.

Because as of now, the university has erected a dam where there should be a flow of information.

Opinion columnist

Mizan is an Opinion columnist.


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