My friend Rachel emailed me an SF Gate article I thought was worth sharing. It’s about the adverse effect of sunscreens, which wash off people’s bodies at the beach, on fish and coral reefs. The article talks about how sunscreen is one of the many chemical personal care products that end up in the water supply, including medications. They suggest that the solution is to educate people about these chemicals so that they can demand safer products and a better water filtration system (as of now we go right ahead and drink this stuff aparently). They also have a list of sunscreen products that are better for the sea.
I remember a similar discussion a couple months back about birth control hormones ending up in the drinking water supply. I sort of shy away from this topic because (a) it’s really gross to think about drinking water that was formerly pee! and (b) I’m really conflicted. I’ve always been a pretty strong live and let live person. I certainly would never want women who wanted it to not have access to birth control. At the same time, I think these cases are good reminders that “live and let live” has some serious challenges, in that we all live in the same place.
The same issue comes up for me with chemical laundry detergents and dish cleaners. In general, I don’t use them myself (to be honest, more because they give me a rash), but I’ve never really pushed them on people in my life. Still, nothing really goes away when it goes down the drain… and sometimes it’s just coming right back out the faucet.
I’m conflicted because I guess I am feeling a little burned out on the idea of a consumer revolution. Are we really going to demand safer products? Do we have time to? Many alternative are available now and most people don’t buy them (can’t afford to? can’t find them? don’t care?). But the idea of regulation is a scary ethical minefield. Some things, such as sunscreen that still protects from sunburns but doesn’t hurt the ocean as much seems pretty uncontroversial. But birth control? What about life-saving drugs that get into the water supply?
I wish we could trust the government to decide what is reasonable for public health and safety versus individual rights, but it’s pretty obvious that we can’t (and if we do while the person we like is in power, it’s all subject to change when their term is over).
I might sound a bit pessimistic, but I’m not. I’m just mulling it over. I definitely know a lot folks who think changing consumer behavior is where it’s at. I just don’t think we can do it until we change consumers back into citizens, and that’s a formidable task. (I’ll do it if someone else pays my rent.)
In the meanwhile, there is a silver lining – at least our internal organs and our sushi won’t get sunburned!
a pretty informative and overly balanced link on tap water (though admittedly not without bias)