After the Fish are Done with It, can We Drink It? The Looming Question of Water Quality – Aug. 1999
WESTFIELD: Many people now know that the Earth contains, essentially, a finite amount of water. This means that the water we must use for drinking, cooking, bathing, watering the lawn (oops — not during the drought!) is recycled. As Man has polluted the Earth, this great, vital resource has been affected. How is it purified for re-use and — the great question — has it been purified sufficiently for us to drink it — yea, more, to actually enjoy it?
Nature has forces at work to purify the water. The Earth itself acts, in many instances, as a giant filter. The activity of the sun, wind, waves, etc. all play a part in water — as well as other types of — purification. The many elements of Nature work so well that the biologists were amazed at how fast Nature repaired itself after the ecological disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Bimini atolls in the Pacific were the testing ground for nuclear weapons, and the recovery of these, too, has been nothing short of astounding. Nature works!
Most people would agree that, personally, the most important water is that which we put into, and, in a secondary way, on, our bodies. How does water get into our body? Well, we drink it, don’t we — that’s obvious, and, considering the amount of water our bodies need to function properly, it seems obvious that we should put the cleanest water possible into those bodies. We also eat water. Eat it? Yes, we eat vegetables and fruits that contain water. Where did they get the water? Some time last year there was a recall in this country of vegetables being grown in a certain South American country — its seems they were being irrigated with sewage water, and the American consumer was getting the benefit of the e-coli! Yeech. In any circumstance, is the water anywhere being used for irrigation crystal clean? Is the irrigation water, perhaps, being drawn from a well on a farm that is supplied by an underground aquifer into which pesticides and fertilizers are leaching from that very farm?
From where does Union County’s water come? Ah, a pristine lake, no doubt. Elizabethtown’s recently published 1998 Water Quality Annual Report states that “Elizabethtown draws an annual average of approximately 117 million gallons per day [more than 90%] from the Raritan and Millstone rivers and the Delaware and Raritan Canal.” I remember boating in the Raritan River over 30 years ago and it was not, ah, exactly the type of water that left me with a desire to reach over the gunwale and scoop up a glassful with which to quench my thirst.
What does it all mean? What’s in the water? Is it safe? Is bottled water safe? How safe is safe? The bottom line is that oneself is not likely to fall down dead from drinking the water coming out of the tap in Union County. Today. Four hundred thousand people in Milwaukee found several years ago that the little Cryptosporidium cyst had very nicely ignored all the procedures to nullify its existence, and they all became sick — and, some died. This little, parasitic cyst — existing within a leathery outer shell that resists the activity of the chlorine normally used to destroy biologicals — is found in most surface water supplies ultimately used for drinking water in this country and in others. A year ago, most of the 3.7 million residents of Sydney, Australia also found themselves boiling the water for weeks until the threat was brought under control. This deadly little cyst is present in the Raritan and Millstone Rivers and in the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
However, with all the chemicals, parasites and other undesirables in the water, the simple truth is that, using Elizabethtown Water as an example, the tap water has been filtered and purified to a degree that renders it potable as mandated by regulatory agencies. If you happen to have a well in your backyard from which you get your water instead, well (please excuse the pun), the onus is on you to ensure that the water is of adequate quality. Ultimately, there still remains the issue, of course, of the infrastructure — the underground transport system — that is used to deliver the water to your house or office. Is it whistle clean?
It’s not, is it? The water coming out of our taps here locally tends to smell and taste of chlorine and other undesirable flavors and, what is that stuff floating in the water when the glass is held up to the light? Rust from the pipes, perhaps, asbestos fibers from some of the older water mains, tyrannosaurus rex body parts (just joking!). And, what about lead used for so many years in joints? And what about the THM’s (TriHaloMethanes — a toxic gas produced by the reactivity of the chlorine in the water with certain organic compounds) and other VOC’s? Let’s have a nice glass of cold tap water, shall we?
What can we do? Ah, bottled water. It comes from pristine springs deep in northern forests, doesn’t it? Not usually — bottled water can — and does — come from any source available. That might include a source such as, say, the Raritan River. Essentially, the bottled water industry is regulated on an honor system in most States. In a four-year test of 103 brands of bottled water — the results of which were made available this year — “a third of the tested brands contained bacteria or other chemicals exceeding the industry’s own guidelines or the most stringent state purity standards.” One of the authors of the report said that “Just because water comes from a bottle doesn’t mean it’s any cleaner or safer than what comes from the tap.”
To balance the above, the study found that most bottled water was of “good” quality. Thus, 3.4 billion gallons of bottle water annually are consumed in this country — many consumers refuse to drink the tap water and settle for the next best choice — bottled water. And yet, as the studies now show, the bottled water industry is essentially unregulated, leading back to our initial questions — i.e., how “good” actually is the water from the tap or the bottled water supply, and, how “safe” is “safe”? Are there any viable alternatives?
One of the fastest growing alternatives to the uncertainties surrounding both tap and bottled water is to use your own POU (Point- Of-Use) DWS (Drinking Water System). While whole-house systems are available, the simplest and usually the most intelligent method of ensuring truly good-quality drinking water is to take the water that is coming into your house or office and purify it yourself through a high- quality DWS. While there are different types of DWS for home and office use, and a considerable array of manufacturers presenting products proclaiming results of first quality water, the knowledgeable consumer can find help in sorting through these claims. First, NSF, an independent laboratory that is the industry agency for rating DWS, can provide ratings for the manufacturers that submit their products for testing. Beware the company that has no NSF rating at all — a good NSF rating is coveted and completely reliable, and questions are raised regarding a company that does not submit their products to NSF. Second, most good DWS are manufactured by companies that have been around for some time — look for a company that has a good track record.
What is involved in the installation of a DWS? It is quite simple, actually. Usually, a compact filter system will install under a kitchen sink — or, it can go in a basement, etc. with no trouble — in about forty-five minutes. It can be done by a handy homeowner; or, a plumber will be happy to install it. Normally, a smaller, secondary faucet dedicated to the DWS use is located on top of the sink and, with a quality system, safe, crystal clear, delightful tasting water is instantly available for drinking (fill a bottle up and take it on the job, on the airline, or to the picnic or to the beach!), for ice cubes, for coffee and tea, cooking, etc. As well, such a system can be easily connected to a refrigerator ice cube maker or water chiller, or an expresso or coffee maker.
A good system will filter the water 99.97% to sub-micron size — this removes parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia cysts, as well as lead, rust and a host of other contaminants. A good system will also remove VOC’s including THM’s. It will also eliminate chlorine and its taste, odors, fishy or musty flavors, turbidity — in short, the water will be delightful! At least one system today also utilizes the wonderful benefits of ozone and ultraviolet light to actually destroy micro-organisms, and to break down and eliminate chemicals, etc. If a madman poisons the municipal drinking water supply with a deadly botulism, this type of system will, nevertheless, provide pure, safe drinking water.
The cost? The average estimates are that high-quality drinking water in the home or office from a good DWS averages about twenty cents a gallon — a very small price to pay to ensure the health of the family or co-workers.
For answers to questions regarding Drinking Water Systems contact The Eardly T. Petersen Company at 224 Elmer Street in Westfield (or, visit them at their website at www.etpetersen). Phone 908-232-5723 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.