Many of us buy bottled water or use water filters, cringing at the idea of drinking straight from the tap. But if necessary, most of us will drink from the tap when other options aren’t available– we assume that we won’t contract the deadly diseases still plaguing the populations of third world countries that are still without modern sewage systems.

This is America, after all.

In his talk on June 12, “Protecting Our Health and the Environment with Wastewater Treatment,” Ethical Culture member Kevin Novak discussed what it takes to remove waste– pills, toxic run off, dead animals, and everything else that finds its way down sewers and toilets– from our water. When this process is allowed to falter, the results are disastrous, as in the case with Flint, Michigan. Though Flint’s lead-laced water was not a result of inadequate waste removal, but rather corroding pipes, the effects of undrinkable water, even in a first world country, were clear. Many of the city’s children have irreversible physical and neurological damage, and the political structure of the area was shaken to its core as many residents lost trust in local leaders.

As Novak said, continued maintenance of sewage treatment plants, which costs money, is vital to the health of a society. Westchester County’s budget today is very tight, and officials make tough choices as to where to put money, and where to take it away. It’s up to the public to demand that clean water never be sacrificed for budgetary concerns, as it was in Flint.