Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Psst, is it ok to drink? Drink water, that is!

A few years ago, before my trip to Tanzania, I went to get the yellow-fever shot and medication to keep malaria away from me.  The doctor advised getting a bunch of other precautionary shots as well, which seemed reasonable to me.  "Let's do a blood test first and see where you are" he said.  "Because you grew up in India, chances are high that you already had a Hep A infection" the doctor added.

What the what?  I had Hep A?  I remember a typhoid infection during my undergraduate years, which then relapsed as well.  But, Hep A?  When did that happen?  Why me?  Woe is me!

I forget now what the blood tests revealed.  But, there is a good reason why the doctor conjectured about Hep A:
Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene.
Food or water "that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person."  Gross, right?  But, ahem, remember the crap floating in the tasty Thamirabarani River back at my grandmother's village?  And who knows what else!

These days, there is bottled water everywhere in India.  Huge containers of potable water are delivered to homes, though I have no idea whether these are safe to drink.  I trust this is ok.  At this stage in my life, I don't want to know either ;)

My daily American life is a total contrast to this life in the old country.  There, I open the water faucet, place a glass under the clear flow and drink that tasty, sweet, cold water.  No worries about germs, infectious diseases, and crap.  One of the very, very few countries in this world where drinking the water from the faucet poses no health risk.  If Rome wasn't built in a day, water that is safe to drink did not happen overnight either; it began a century ago in the US:
The first standards for drinking water in America were developed by the Public Health Service in 1914, two years after the famed aviation brother Wilbur Wright died of typhoid. The federal standards addressed bacteriological threats, but the PHS’ powers were limited, so the standards applied only to interstate common carriers such as trains, buses, and ships. Water providers to these carriers had to use chlorination, and this soon covered all the major cities.
There are paranoid environmentalists and health-nutcases who, even now, think that chlorination is harmful to humans.  Maybe. But, I don't care.  Because, unsafe water is a gazillion times worse than chlorine in water.
Our tap water is safer than it has ever been. But continued protection of our drinking water for the next 40 years will require vigilance and perhaps a transformation. It should not be surprising that something as fundamental and pervasive as drinking water cannot be fully protected by a single statute. We are used to enjoying safe water and paying monthly bills as “consumer drinkers.” Fundamental protection of our drinking water will not occur, however, unless we take on the role of “citizen drinkers,” using our political process to demand effective protection through better enforcement of our laws and renewed scrutiny of activities threatening our source waters.
I will drink to that.  After I reach home, that is ;)


  1. Chlorination is just one of many issues that health-nutcases bring up. We have so few problems in this country that we seem to find ones to invent! The recent debate over fluorination of Portland's water supply came to my mind as I read this. Mountains of evidence that it helps teeth, but still there is dissent.

    Of course, if there are groups who believe adding stuff to our beverages makes them harmful (somehow) there will always be a group that thinks the opposite! I have an uncle who believes pasteurization removes some of the health benefits of milk, after all, and he buys his milk, unpasteurized, straight from farms.

  2. Really ? You drink water from the tap ??? Even after this

  3. You think I will be scared of a couple of drops of urine after the growing up experiences in India? hehehehehe ...

    Yes, the fluoride in water is one crazy controversy. Bizarre, actually. I am willing to bet that most--if not all--of the anti-fluoride people are also the anti-vaccination people and the anti-chlorine people ...


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