Thursday, January 10, 2008

Go Green in 2008 ~ Strange Brew

The great water debate - tap versus bottled. People mistrust the tap water, it often has a strong chlorine taste, and isn't cold enough right out of the tap. Bottled water requires extra production costs to make the bottles, which may or may not be recycled afterwards, some water bottlers may just be pulling from the tap anyways, and it takes considerable energy to haul water bottles all around the country for retail sale.

Here's something to consider that may negate some of those fears, and cause a few more

Aldous Huxley was right - there is Soma in the water!

OK. We all remember learning about the water cycle. We don't like to think we drink water from a wastewater treatment plant - but - we sorta do. Water from our local sewage treatment plant, for example, is used to recharge aquifers. Aquifers lead to reservoirs, which lead to the plant that treats the water to make our drinking water again. Yeah!

It was common practice for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to flush unused drugs for many years. The same message was conveyed to residents to handle their outdated or unused drugs as well. Furthermore, we contribute to the problem when we urinate out the chemicals our body did not process from certain drugs. Even livestock who are given growth hormones and antibiotics contribute to the problem of pharmaceuticals in the water supply. Water is not treated for pharmaceuticals on the front end or the back end, so they come to us through the tap, and in the bottle - we can't escape them.

Researchers in the U.S. are just now starting to test for pharmaceuticals in the water. There does not appear to be much research, however, on the "effect" side of things. Some suggest the amounts are so small, they cannot have any effect.
Other scientists say long-term and synergistic effects of pharmaceuticals are not known, but could be cause for concern. Many of the drugs that have been identified in our water supply are endocrine disrupters, which interfere with hormone production. Here is a fun list of all the diseases of the endocrine system.

Other concerns cited include the effects on the lifecycle of aquatic animals that come into more direct contact with pharmaceuticals at the discharge point. Or that the release may result in disease-causing bacteria to become immune to treatment, and that drug-resistant diseases will develop. Scary stuff...

Unfortunately, there is no optimal way to dispose of pharmaceuticals. You can check if your pharmacy has a take back program. In California, we are faced with so many wastes that are are now considered hazardous. I'm sure you have a mini stockpile like me waiting to go to a hazardous waste collection event. They will also accept drugs. To date, however, pharmaceuticals are not considered hazardous waste by CA, so it is preferred to throw them in the trash sealed tightly in their original container.* We can also insist that the drug companies to be responsible for their own waste and take it back!

As for the tap versus bottle thing, make sure you do the research on your local tap water before you make your decision to switch to bottles. The EPA requires each water agency prepare an annual water quality report. Many are available online. Some of the numbers may look scary, but they are often measured in parts (one drop of the pollutant being measured) per billion (drops of water). The equivalent is like a drop of water in a tanker truck full of oil. Except I guess it would be vice versa - a drop of oil in a tanker truck equivalent of water. Hey - at least you get to see what you are drinking - I haven't seen a similar report for bottled water yet!

* I don't know if I'll get to it this month, but landfills do not actively decompose. They do have leachate from liquid matter that was thrown away or rainwater moving through the fill material which can get into groundwater if not properly managed. However, if we dug up material that was landfilled 50 years ago, we would still be able to read a newspaper thrown away, a hot dog would still look like a hot dog, etc. They don't want the pile to decompose. This would set up a whole new host of engineering problems. So, though yes your bottle of pills will eventually decompose as everything will, it is not an immediate threat to the groundwater supply, unlike flushing.


Shanna said...

i don't know what kuwait would do without bottled water! it's everywhere! you order water at a restaurant and they bring you a bottle. every apartment/house has a water filter on their sink and their washing machine but it still tastes really gross. i think the water comes from the ocean which is more than likely polluted with oil and other nasties. we use tap for cooking and making things like koolaid and sweet tea but if we're drinking water "straight" it comes from the bottle.

i doubt they recycle here. trash is everywhere and i'm sure you would be horrified at what my view outside looks like. there are dumpsters everywhere but they don't have lids so it flies out or gets taken out because people go through every bag of trash to see if there is anything worth keeping for themselves. it's kind of gross. outside buildings there will be huge piles of loose trash.

what's funny about this country is that the inside of buildings are spotless because they hire more people than they need to clean. you go into the mall and there's at least 2 men at every turn mopping or pushing a broom, constantly...that's all they do for 10 hours a day. but you go outside and it's disgusting!

barbian7 said...

Wow, I'm ashamed to say this is all new information for me. And it's pretty scary. I thought fluoride was bad enough, and hormones in milk...but I didn't put two and two together. Some serious overhaul needs to take place. I always say that in a couple of decades all sorts of diseases will spring up because of things like Splenda. But turns out maybe the problem is closer to home...actually, AT home. Right out of the tap.

Sarah and Jack said...

On a purely economic note, have you ever calculated the cost of bottled water (which no one complains about) versus the cost of gasoline (which everyone complains about)?

If you use $1.09 per bottle(local gas station price for me), it ends up being near $7 A GALLON.

Junie Moon said...

I drink water out of our tap, we installed a filtering system but I doubt that it works as effectively as I would like. It is rather alarming to think about all the pharmaceuticals flushed down toilets. The cartoon you posted pretty much says it all.

Rebecca said...

Oh thanks for a happy Friday post! LOL. No, seriously, I am really enjoying your go green posts and this issue is one I was curious about. (I've also caught myself saying "my friend suggests blah blah blah when trying to be more green" this last week!)

And I often list "Brave New World" as one of my all time favorite books. I think I'll have a reread. Have you read "Utopia?" It's another Huxley masterpiece on our crazy society.

Anonymous said...

Hey there!
Thanks for all the "green" posts, they are very informative. I ran across these re-usable makeup remover pads on etsy today, and thought you might like to check them out. I thought it was a really clever idea:

Have a great weekend!

Anne said...

I've enjoyed your green posts; a little scary, but informative. Thank you for sharing.

woof nanny said...

Oops, just realized I signed in under the wrong email addy. Sorry, that barbian7 was me earlier :)

Heidi said...

Thanks for these posts. I've always wished there was a place you could donate your unused medicine for poor people without insurance. I know there are legal issues with that, but it seems such a waste when medicine isn't past the due date and it's so expensive!