One of the most important functions of government is to ensure that public water systems deliver clean, healthy water to citizens.
So a recent report on New Jersey's drinking water is disturbing on a couple of levels.
For one thing, it shows that two thirds of public water systems tested contain perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs.
PFCs are man-made chemicals, the result of industrial processes, and they have been linked to cancers and increased cholesterol in humans and developmental and reproductive problems in animals.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection set "guidance levels" for PFC consumption, currently there are no requirements that water providers remove the chemicals. When 31 municipal water systems in 20 New Jersey counties were tested for 10 different PFCs in 2009 and 2010, 22 of 33 samples - or 67 percent - were found to contain the chemicals.
Just as disturbing is the fact that although this study was completed in 2010, its release was postponed until this month. Why wait four years to put out this information and begin the discussion of what we ought to do about it?
The short answer is that the author of the report, the Drinking Water Quality Institute, only recently met for the first time in four years. The group had been inactive since its chairman resigned in 2010. Prior to that, for 30 years the 15-member board advised the DEP on water-quality issues and wrote the rules that limit the level of contaminants in drinking water.
But saying the board has been inactive is no answer at all. Why has it been inactive? Why has the important work of safeguarding the state's water been put on hold?
In March, when Gov. Chris Christie appointed three new members to the board, effectively reviving it, a DEP spokesman said state officials had been preparing new appointments when their work was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.
That excuse is a little hard to swallow. And speaking of hard to swallow, what about those PFCs in our drinking water?
The DEP is now using municipal water utilities in Camden and Bergen counties to test a system - granular activated carbon removal technology - to remove PFCs from water.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group that tried for four years to get the state to release this report, is urging the DEP to conduct another round of water-system tests and to establish strict limits for PFCs.
We hope the DEP will take that action and make up for the lack of urgency about this problem it has demonstrated so far.