What’s in your water? Seawater Desalination is a big problem.

Seawater Desalination
is a big problem.

What’s in your water?

Apparently tiny crustaceans saving you from malaria…who knew?

Flickr: followtheseinstructions
The average person should drink about two litres of water each day. The human body loses around 60 percent of water each day and in order to keep the body going you need to drink water. And if you ever torture yourself with a “hot yoga” class you’ll probably lose more water than I personally think any human should sweat out in one hour. So you have drink a lot to replenish all that lost water. But what exactly are you drinking?

Straight from the tap

what’s in your water ?

Tap water is a free public service that over 6 billion people have access to every day. But how many of these people know the science behind what’s in “potable water?” Would you believe me if I told you government’s control and add things to your water? It’s true.

Apart from H20 there are many minerals, elements, and some things you might have never heard about in the water you drink every day. Let’s start with the most surprising…

When I was younger I was terrified of spiders. Growing up in California there are some seriously scary arachnids creeping around, and I wanted to kill them all. But my mom explained to me how spiders are good because they eat other bugs, like mosquitos, which are even more harmful to humans. Well, I have some potentially scary news to deliver and I want you to take the same attitude as I did towards “good spiders” about tiny creatures that commonly exist in tap water. There are no spiders in potable tap water, however there are tiny crustaceans called copepods which can only be seen at a microscopic level. Copepods live in nearly every ocean and freshwater habitat and are sometimes not filtered out of drinking water.

what’s in your water?

 

Before you freak out, you should know copepods are actually incredibly important to keeping tap water clean. The EPA permits and in some places even adds copepods to clean water supplies because they consume mosquito larvae–which you seriously don’t want in your drinking water.

Copepods are super tiny (less than 1 millimeter in size) and harmless to the human body, but for the 300,000 Orthodox Jews in New York and others who follow kosher diets this is a major area of contention and dispute in keeping kosher, according to the New York Times. So, if you’re really bothered by these guys you can easily filter them out with a simple cloth.

What else is on tap?

Mineral nutrients either occur naturally in potable water or remain after certain chemical processes occur while disinfecting water sources. The top minerals in tap water are calcium, magnesium, and sodium compounds. Zinc, chlorine, and fluoride can also be in tap water at low levels.

Fluoride is the most controversial. One the one hand, fluoride has dental health benefits but on the flipside, it causes liver damage, and is linked to bladder cancer. About 6 percent of the world’s population drinks water with added fluoride. 12 million in Europe and over 70 percent of Americans drink water with doses under 1 milligram per litre.

However, with mounting research on the negative health effects and links to cancer, countries like Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany have filtered out fluoride from tap water. In the US, Portland, Oregon, is the only major city to reject city proposals to add fluoride to tap water. But this year the US Dept. of Health and Human Services lowered the recommended level from 1.2 milligrams per litre to 0.7 milligrams. So fluoride might be on the way out, even if it’s in there for now.

Should cities add something else instead?

It’s worth considering. Some places, like Ashland, Oregon, in the US, have naturally occurring lithium (which is often used to treat depression) in tap water. It tastes horrible but makes for one happy city. And some scientists argue low-levels of lithium in the water might not be such a bad idea.

what’s in your water ?
Lithia Park, in Ashland, Oregon has public drinking fountains providing water with low levels of lithium.

 

Cut out the chlorine–filtered water
Let’s say you use a filter to remove potential minerals, elements, and anything else that could be lurking in tap water. What does that filter actually remove?

Filters such as Brita and Pur, for example, can remove mercury, cadmium, and copper which are toxic contaminants–but they’re not usually found in safe-to-drink tap water. The one element water filters remove which IS in most tap water is chlorine. The amount of chlorine is small and really only affects taste.

Concerned about fluoride? Most common added filters don’t remove fluoride so in order to get fluoride-free water you would need to purchase bottled water or upgrade to a fancier filtration system.

All bottled up
what’s in your water ?

Oh, the plastic water bottle dilemma. It’s so convenient and easy for mass consumption, and Evian just tastes better right? But… it’s horrendously unsustainable, and could drinking from plastic be bad for you?

It’s definitely worth taking a look at what’s going on inside the bottle, especially since Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year.

Bottled water comes in all shapes and sizes, literally, and that variety applies to what’s in bottled water too. The benefit of bottled water is that you can choose and control exactly what minerals and elements are used in the water you consume and which filtration is used.

Then there’s also bottled water vs. mineral water. Mineral water has added minerals. Usually minerals like fluoride and chlorine are removed and calcium and magnesium levels are upped in mineral water. And there’s bottled water, aka spring water. Bottled water has to come from a natural underground water source, so companies can’t just package and sell tap water. The bottled water industry for spring water can have some pretty complex systems to filter water and add the “perfect combination” of electrolytes and minerals for taste and replenishing the body’s water loss.

And because I cannot justify writing about bottled water without saying something about the environmental damage and noting potential health risks, here are some things to consider when it comes to the impact of purchasing plastic bottled water.

what’s in your water?

Global Citizen has mentioned the environmental harm that is the plastic bottle before in “An ode to the reuseable water bottle” from Gus, and you can see the life of a plastic water bottle in this article from Caryn. Plastic water bottles not only hurt the environment by sitting in landfills and taking tons of energy to recycle, they also might not be so good for you.

Cancer societies around the world from Australia, to the US, and UK claim that?the whole plastic bottles cause cancer thing is a myth. You’re not drinking cancer-causing water by consuming from a bottle. But if you use or heat up an older water bottle with BPA in it there is some evidence it’s bad for health. The EU works on a precautionary ban for carcinogens and didn’t wait to ban BPA plastics–and it might be smarter to take their advice than wait around until it’s proven.

Caution: drink at your own risk
Why wouldn’t you drink water when drinking water is available?

Water may be available and seem safe but distrust in government motivates a lot of people to avoid public water. For example, Mexico is the world’s largest consumer per capita of bottled water, but twenty years ago Mexicans drank tap water daily. In the past decades lack of funding for repairs after earthquakes–like the one in 1985 (which damaged major main water pipes in Mexico City)–have caused people to doubt water quality. And for good reason.

Before repairs were made, water from the tap was unsafe and unappealing. Water streamed from taps in a brownish yellow color, sometimes with debris. And it was unknown whether Giardia or parasites along with toxic chemicals from leaky pipes were in the water. This type of water is clearly dangerous and often occurs as after natural disasters, or when water infrastructure fails. 783 million people in the world only have access to this type of water today. But Mexico City is no longer one of them.

what’s in your water ?
Fountain in Zocalo de Coyoacán in Mexico City.

 

Mexico City spent $70 million (USD) turning once brown and yellow discolored fluid into a clean water. But citizens of the country still don’t trust the government to provide safe, clean water so they buy bottled water instead. Families in Mexico City spent an average of ten percent of income on bottled water in 2012, which is double what development banks like the World Bank recommend. In this case, a shift toward good governance policies could help reduce plastic consumption, and save the city millions so water purification programs don’t go to waste.

Why should you stop buying bottled water in developing countries?

Developing countries with clean water infrastructure still don’t have the same resources as wealthier nations do to quickly repair, manage quality and distribute potable water. When tourists are thrown into the mix, things get worse. A vicious cycle emerges where tourists purchase bottled water because they suspect the tap water is bad. Then, to sustain this flow of money, governments do not invest in supporting clean water systems. So instead of feeding this cycle, you could bring a travel-size water filter and invest in clean water projects in developing countries.

what’s in your water ?

It’s kind of bizarre when you think about what’s actually in water supplies. Your body runs on water You should be able to have some say in what you’re drinking.

But 783 million people in the world risk illness because they don’t have access to clean water. This is more than a reminder to be grateful for whatever access you have to tap, bottled, or filtered water–it’s a call to action because water is a human right and everyone should be able to drink safe water.