Sunday, January 12, 2014

Water, water everywhere...

... and not a drop to drink.

At least, that's the case in West Virginia, where a chemical spill has contaminated the water supply for nine counties. Like something out of the environmental thriller The East (watch it, if you haven't - most people haven't), the spill will cause massive costs for all of us who pay taxes, since FEMA has been called in to deal with the disaster.

This is especially shameful because safe drinking water is one of the huge achievements of our nation. When clean water gushes out of our taps day-in and day-out, we forget that this is a friggin' miracle. For much of human history, and in many parts of the world today, water-borne illnesses are a huge cause of lost wages and school time, disability and death. More children around the world die from diarrhea caused by unsafe water than from AIDS and malaria combined. Ever hear someone say, "Yeah, I just had cholera last week"? Neither have I - because we don't have to worry about cholera. We also don't have to spend half the day walking to get water to lug home. 

What's happened in West Virginia is incredibly rare in the U.S., and we shouldn't let it scare us off tap water (and we should also ensure that the company, Freedom Industries, has to pay so that these kinds of spills don't become more common).

 I admit, I get a little hot when people say, "I don't drink tap water." 

First off, if you drink bottled water, you probably do drink tap water. The NRDC estimates that 25% of bottled water is actually tap water, and sometimes it's not even filtered additionally. Those companies then profit from our public utilities - the utilities and EPA make sure the water is safe, and the companies who sell the water don't have to worry about it. 

Of course, bottled water contributes significantly to the amount of plastic in landfills, and the plastic itself can leach into the water. 

While almost all drinking water in the U.S. is extremely safe for almost all people (some with compromised immune systems shouldn't drink it), if you are worried:

  • your utility is required to provide an annual safety report. Just call them up and they must send you one.
  • use a filter. This is also helpful for those who don't drink tap water because of taste.
I've been drinking tap water since I was a kid, and I just fill up my trusty ol' glass Voss water bottle (it's about $2 and then you have a heavy-duty glass water bottle that lasts and lasts).  I've even been known to drink from drinking fountains in public parks and drink water out of my bathroom sink. Still kickin'.

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