Drinking Water Safe
For many years it has
been known that chlorine does an amazing job of bringing "dirty"
water to a safe drinking standard. Water can be life-threatening
if it carries water-borne disease. When chlorine was discovered
in 1908, it made a huge difference in purifying drinking water.
Why is chlorine essential? According to the Chlorine
and Drinking Water: Here's to your health chlorine is just as
important to water as water is to us. Public health officials around
the country believe that this is true. However, no purification
system is perfect, and chlorine can have byproducts which can be
One such byproduct,
trihalomethanes (THMs), forms when chlorine reacts with organic
materials such as the remains of leaves or soil in water. Some epidemiological
studies have suggested a possible link between THMs and an increased
risk for bladder and colorectal cancer. More studies need to be
done on these or there is debate over these issues, and you can
find more information on the Chlorine
Knowledge website. The chart below shows The
Santa Clara Valley Water District's Water Quality for an eight-month
period. It does not exceed of the EPA maximum contaminant level
(shown in red).
is so capable of dissolving contaminants, there is no way of getting
"pure" water (Drinking
Water Contaminants). There are many solvents that can be in
your water, such as lead, that may affect you and your family, especially
children and pregnant women who are at high risk of contamination.
There are inorganic compounds and of course organic compounds.
relating or belonging to the class of compounds not having a carbon
basis, such as hydrochloric and sulfuric acids.
any compound of carbon and another element.
The materials suspended
in water serve a health risk because these can cause diseases. Pathogens
are disease-causing organisms, and some of these organisms can come
from other sources besides drinking water. There are bacteria, such
as cholera, thyphoid fever, and E. coli. In the article
Water at Risk, the Houston Chronicle notes that there
were 3,641 water purification sites that violated the health standards
for fecal contamination.
There are also protozoans
that can cause many problems if ingested. Cryptosporidium parvum
and Giardia lamblia are two very common parasites, which
can give humans cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis respectively. The
picture below is a picture of the infective stage of the parasite
C. parvum called the oocysts (Wilkes
University). The infective stage for G. lamblia is
the cyst stage found in fecal matter shown in the second picture
on the Web).
Throughout the World
These two diseases are
the most prevalent throughout the world and are considered cosmopolitan,
which means they have had world wide distribution. Cryptosporidium
became well publicized during the massive outbreak in Milwaukee
in 1993 (CIC
Guideline for Crypto). It was found to be spread by drinking
water that was contaminanted with the oocysts. Unfortunately the
water was not purified according to Federal standards. After a few
days, 400,000 people came down with diarrhea, weight loss, and abdominal
cramping.. People who were immunocompromised (such as HiV/AIDS patients)
were at increased health risks. In the end, residents had to boil
water for quite a few weeks until the problem was fixed, and in
the end over 100 people died from this outbreak. A Giardia
outbreak occured in Sydney, Australia (in a privatized utility system),
but was not as severe as Milwaukee's and was taken care of through
increased water safety and treatment.
Safety Around the World
The United States and
other industrialized countries have good monitoring of the municipal
water supplies and are usually able to catch contaminants. If you
have your own well, you may want to read up on how to monitor your
drinking water for safety (Cancer
Research Center website). If you are not sure if your water
is safe, find out what you can do or drink water from another source.
Unfortunately, U.S. citizens' money is being put into buying bottled
water, rather than guaranteeing safe water for Americans and others
in the world.
Australia is a country
much like the United States, and has many municipal water safety
facilities that monitors what is in the water every day. If there
is an outbreak agencies are able to clean it with chemicals (Drinking
Water Guidelines for Australia).
Water problems in the
"Third World" (Periphery and Semi-Periphery) countries
are much more devastating and dangerous to people's health. Most
of the time local rivers, streams and lakes are the source of drinking
water. This is very dangerous for people because they have a much
higher risk of being contaminated by bacteria and parasites. Just
stepping into a lake with fecal contamination is dangerous. Imagine
having to drink that water because the economy is too poor to provide
safe drinking water, or the community is too far from a source of
safe water. The question for many countries who cannot afford water
safety facilities is, "Municipal
services: basic human right or economic good?"
China's rapid economic
growth, industrialization, and urbanization -- accompanied by inadequate
infrastructure investment and management capacity -- have all contributed
to widespread problems of water scarcity and water pollution throughout
the country (China).
Many Chinese try to boil their water, but unfortunately this does
not work for many toxins. Much fecal contamination has occurred
in China and other Asian countries, which makes risks of parasites
and bacteria very high.
is a concern for countries all over the world. It is important to
understand what is being put into the water you drink. It is crucial
to know who to contact and what you should know about water from
the city, your own well, and other countries. There is a continual
struggle in "Third World" countries today. They are still
hoping to have access to safe water, but privatization is making
this more expensive.