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Posts Tagged ‘drinking water chlorination’

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Sorry, but this post is just about the kitchen tap.  When we eat locally, let’s not neglect to drink locally as well.  There are many good reasons to open the tap rather than the clicking “contamination seal” of a plastic water bottle.  For one thing, the promise of that seal is an illusion.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA’s rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water. For example, bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria. Similarly, there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. This leaves open the possibility that some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS.

Oh, and carbonated waters are exempted from even these regulations.  Yuck!  But the cap is also powerless against other sources of contamination.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Bisphenol A (BPA), which leaches from polycarbonate plastic bottles into the liquid inside—whether it’s water, iced tea, or breastmilk. There’s been a lot of news about this recently, and Nalgene and Avent, the baby bottle maker, grabbed the spotlight when they announced their phase-outs of BPA-containing plastics.  (For the problems caused by BPA, check out my cousin-in-law, Michelle Grey Campion’s blog, “The Epi-Cure” at http://www.theepi-cure.com.)

We also know that plastic bottles are pollutants, because only a small percentage of the 2 million plastic bottles Americans throw away every five minutes are recycled.  For a shocking visual representation of this number, take a look at Chris Jordan’s photographs, at:  http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php

I’d been using my portable bottles for years, like a good little environmentalist, but I didn’t know a thing about the water coming from my tap until I spent an interesting half hour surfing the web to find out about my watershed, the Lower Tallapoosa.  (It’s a pleasure just learning the names, but I highly recommend clicking around on the EPA website.)  It turns out that the muddy little strand of Chewacla Creek I run along ends up in my water glass—after it flows into Ogletree Lake and is joined in the treatment plant by water from Saugahatchee Lake, Halawakee Creek, and Lake Harding, and is chlorinated.

Does drinking a bit of chlorine and the byproducts of its oxidizing process sound unappetizing?  (Actually, I think the drops that end up in my mouth when I swim help ward off the coughs and sniffles of the preschoolers and undergrads I’m constantly in the midst of.)  Chlorine has been used to kill  the microbes in public drinking water since 1970, and since then, there has been a lot of debate about its safety, but nothing better has come along.  A report by Auburn University’s Agronomy and Soils Department on chlorination persuades with a touch of scary irony:

Although there seems to be a growing public fear of drinking water with a small residual level of chlorine in it, this small residual elemental chlorine level at the tap is the single best indicator that the water is free of microbial contamination. If all the chlorine has been used up in oxidation processes before the end of the pipeline—your faucet—you do not know whether your water is safe to drink or not.

And you can always pop a Brita filter on your faucet.

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