there’s something in the water

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)

2 responses to “there’s something in the water

  1. I’m glad you were able to write about this. The idea of medication, as well as things like sunscreen, affecting water and marine life is not something I thought about much previously. And it’s a fine line with regulation – primarily because these drugs were created for a myriad of purposes, and their impact on the environement (at least in terms of dilution into our water supply) was hardly taken into account as a stumbling block on whether or not they should be produced – ie birth control and diabetes medication. Until something like this reaches critical mass the best bet is being aware and educating people. This doesn’t mean pushing Dr. Bronner’s into their hands and throwing their Chanel out the window – although that’s probably effective – but offering alternatives. My two and a half cents.

    Here’s another topic that I plan on writing a bit about myself: Colonly collapse disorder in beees, quickly becoming a hot issue on the public health front. In fact, Haagen Daazs recently gave a whole bunch of money to UC Davis as funding for research in this area – since it hits their business pretty hard. More scary is the idea of no fruit….(shudder).

  2. An Environmental Working Group analysis of Nitrates and nitrites tests reported by 15,803 public water suppliers in 28 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 96.4 million people in 10,920 communities drank water contaminated with Nitrates and Nitrites. In 97 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.

    Texas had 1,302 water supply systems serving 13.9 million people contaminated with Nitrates and Nitrites, which was the highest state in the study. Coming in second was Washington with 1,257 systems serving 3.9 million people.

    Nitrate & nitrite is a chemical that enters water from fertilizer runoff, leaching septic tanks, and erosion of natural deposits. Potential health impacts associated with Nitrate & nitrite include cardiovascular or blood toxicity, kidney toxicity, and reproductive toxicity.

    The Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) for Nitrates and Nitrites is 10 parts per million (ppm). Water suppliers report an average of 0.7 Nitrate and Nitrite tests per year. 23,948 water suppliers failed to report any Nitrate and Nitrite tests at all. Testing for Nitrate and Nitrite can be done by anybody, accurately and safely at home. Our water test kits provide the accuracy of a laboratory to everyone with fast and accurate results. Please visit our site for more information.

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