Water, water, everywhere. Clean or poisoned?

Home much liquid did you consume today?  Was it clean?  Will you become ill, spawn a deformed child, get cancer, die a lingering death?

In an attempt to head off some of the pithy comments accusing me of being a fear monger, let me admit that, in this case, I am.

Photo from U/Michigan

Photo from U/Michigan

I don’t think most of us realize how perilous our water supply is.

We may know that the water we drink is often laced with minute amounts second-hand pharmaceuticals: estrogen, antibiotics, and dozens of other meds. In reality, they are so heavily diluted that there is no apparent risk.

Envision a thimble of poison in a swimming pool of water, the EPA offers as an example.  Low dose, but, is anyone studying it?

But what about the growing amount of nano-scale material that is going down our drains? Nanosilver washed from clothing and bedding and the drums of nano-coated washers and driers?

EPA admits that today virtually none of the nation’s public water filtration systems can prevent these minute heavy metal particles, as well as other nano-ized substances, from getting into our drinking water. But, EPA says it hasn’t studied the possible health effects.

If you want to get an idea of how widespread the contamination of our water supply is, here are two links.  The first is an EPA list of contaminants  in drinking water.

The second is an investigation by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg that says, “Clean Water Laws Are Neglected at a Cost in Suffering .”

Duhigg reports that in the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

On the other side of the world, Bao Anh of the Vietnamese paper Thanh Nien reported that more than 100 people living in a commune near Hanoi have been killed by cancer  caused by pesticides from nearby farms fouling the river and community wells.corn_harvest_1

The U.S. has its own problems with farm chemicals. Can you say atrazine?

It’s one of agricultures most heavily used herbicides, and EPA says that it has been found in high levels throughout the country and has done little or nothing about it.

For more than two decades, battles have been fought within the EPA and the European Union and among their advisory panels over the danger of atrazine.  The agency and the manufacturer insist that the herbicide sold by the Swiss- based Syngenta is safe. Many toxicologists and public and worker health advocates, say they have the proof that it’s not.

“Those most at risk are people living in farming communities where the water supplies, both underground and in reservoirs, are often heavily contaminated with atrazine,” says a weary scientist in EPA’s pesticide office.

“And it’s these farmers and their families who are least likely to raise hell about it because it’s great for crop growth,” he added.

We have the ingenuity to clean or stop most of this pollution of our water supply. What it takes is a willingness and money. Nether appears to be in abundance.

Five years ago, former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois introduced the Water for the Poor Act of 2005, aimed at poor nations around the world. The State Department says that as of last year, because of Simon’s bill, more than 7.7 million people received improved access to safe drinking water.

Today, a spin-off of that bill stagnates in the Senate. The legislation – sponsored by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Tennessee’s Bob Corker of the Foreign Relations committee – is called Water for the Word Act. It would help provide 100 million people in third-world countries with sustainable access to clean water. But first it has to get to the full senate.

When I asked a lawyer on the Senate committee where the bill is stalled whether it contained anything to help the poor in the U.S. get clean water, he responded that the sign on the committee door said, “Foreign Relations.’’

(Soon I’ll move a little follow up that briefly examines what happens when we have no water, clean or dirty. And that’s well on its way to happening.)


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