Thinking About Our Water
In recent months, the MWRA of Massachusetts had a multi-community disaster when a main water pipe in the town of Weston broke allowing contaminants and pollutants into the water supply for over 50 towns in eastern Massachusetts. For days, people were instructed to boil their water or buy bottled water. So if you have realized the importance of unprocessed foods, whole grains, organic vegetables, then start thinking about the quality of something that you ingest far more of — water. When we think of drinking water, we get a picture in our head of a mountain stream untouched by man. This is what we think of as healthy, clean, pure water. But the truth is that rarely do we see that, let alone drink that. The truth is much more startling than you imagine. Many of the worst polluting states are also the most industrialized. And even the states with the lowest number of contaminants in their drinking water have still exposed millions of their residents to the effects of nitrates, pharmaceutical drugs, arsenic and lead.
Even good ratings within EPA guidelines can translate into unsafe drinking water for homes and businesses. Let’s take Massachusetts as an example. From 1998through 2003, although Massachusetts ranked among states with the least number of violations and the smallest levels of contamination, the statistics are startling:
* Out of 620 water systems present in MA, 409 had violations of regulations regarding water quality.
* 130 communities in MA were served water with with contaminants above health-based limits.
* Some of the 17 contaminants found in MA drinking water were chloroform, nitrates, arsenic and even radium. Most were the result of industrial pollution.
* The total MA population that was exposed to contaminants above health-based limits was 5,617,520.
This is because of the way the federal guidelines are structured. Much of eastern Massachusetts receives its drinking water from the Quabbin Reservoir located in western Massachusetts and is overseen by the Mass Water Resources Authority (MWRA). The water from this reservoir is unfiltered as it reaches your tap. Instead, the MWRA chooses to add chemical agents and ozone in order to clean the water and bring up its alkalinity from 6.8 to 9.5 in order to meet federal mandates.
The first step is to use ozone gas to kill pathogens in the water. Then fluoride is added, followed by sodium bicarbonate which acts as a buffering agent to make the water less corrosive to the pipes through which it has to travel, reducing lead contamination common in many older areas of the district. Hundreds of miles of the pipes utilized in the delivery of drinking water are over 50 years old, with some more than 100years old, many containing lead and will continue to affect drinking water until they can all be replaced, a gradual and expensive process.
This is something that makes Massachusetts rather unique in its challenges to provide drinking water. Much of the run-off from tap water ends up in the Boston Harbor, which for years was completely polluted. But now with the changes in additives, it is much cleaner with the chemicals that are added to our tap water. But is that healthy?
In order to determine whether a particular water resource is within federal guidelines, tap water is tested at various homes. Currently the EPA allows 10% of homes tested to have lead levels in their drinking water above federal limits without any action being required. This compensation for lead contamination also raises the pH dramatically and carbon dioxide must be added to reduce the pH to more acceptable drinking levels. Next mono chloramine is added as a “mild,long-lasting disinfectant combining chlorine and ammonia to protect the water while it is in the local pipelines.”
But you are drinking this! The powers that be insist that these are harmless chemicals to humans, but what about if you have an autoimmune disease or are an infant whose immune system isn’t fully developed yet. Is it still harmless? In fact, even when disease and illness occurs as a reaction to these chemicals, it will never be evident because medical treatment facilities will assume it is from some other source. They will never think to look in the drinking water.
And so you begin spending money to drink bottled water in plastic bottles. Is this healthier? Actually many bottled waters are just filtered tap water (Dasani, Aquafina) where all the minerals have been removed necessitating adding synthetic minerals back so that the water tastes like... water.
Although regular testing is done per EPA guidelines, it is important to know that the EPA allows up to 5% of monthly tests to be positive for coliform bacteria and still be within federal requirements. This is because Federal guidelines permit up to 25% raw sewage can be added to water destined for drinking prior to standard purification methods. But are these methods enough?
In Massachusetts, water disinfection by the MWRA leaves levels of mono chloramine, fluoride, nitrates,trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids-5 in the water that reaches the tap. In fact the MWRA states that “the presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk.” It may not necessarily, but do you want to take that chance with your children?
In fact, in recent months, the MWRA had a multi-community disaster when a main water pipe in the town of Weston broke allowing contaminants and pollutants into the water supply for over 50 towns in eastern Massachusetts. For days, people were instructed to boil their water or buy bottled water. So if you have realized the importance of unprocessed foods, whole grains, organic vegetables, then start thinking about something that you ingest far more of — water.