U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation (Spring 2004) 24:2 127-138.


Our knowledge base regarding the presence and significance of chemicals foreign to the subsurface environment is large and growing-the papers in this volume serving as testament. However, complex questions with few answers surround the unknowns regarding the potential for environmental or human health effects from trace levels of xenobiotics in ground water, especially ground water augmented with treated waste water. Public acceptance for direct or indirect ground water recharge using treated municipal waste water (especially sewage) spans the spectrum from unquestioned embrace to outright rejection. In this paper, I detour around the issues most commonly discussed regarding ground water recharge and instead focus on some of the less-recognized issues-those that emanate from the mysteries created at the many literal and virtual interfaces involved with the subsurface world. My major objective is to catalyze discussion that advances our understanding of the barriers to public acceptance of waste water reuse with its ultimate culmination in direct reuse for drinking. I pose what could be a key question as to whether much of the public's frustration or ambivalence in its decision-making process for accepting, or rejecting, water reuse (for various purposes including personal use) emanates from fundamental inaccuracies, misrepresentation, or oversimplification of what water is and how it functions in the environment-just exactly what the water cycle is. These questions suggest it might behoove us to revisit some very elementary aspects of our science and how we are conveying them to the public.