Water Reading- The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

“Many civilizations have been crippled or destroyed by an inability to understand water or manage it. We have a huge advantage over the generations of people who have come before us, because we can understand water and we can use it smartly.”

– Charles Fishman, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

Charles Fishman, bestselling author of The Wal-Mart Effect has most recently turned his attention to water. The leap from discounted mega-giant to Earth’s most essential resource may seem like a big one, but Fishman is interested in relationships-whether it’s to Wal-Mart or water.  Fishman first began his flirtation with water in a 2007 article entitled, “Message in a Bottle”, published in Fast Company magazine. In this piece Fishman lamented, “Thirty years ago, bottled water barely existed as a business in the United States. Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets– $15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year” (Fishman, 2007).

Fast forward to 2011, and Fishman tackles both the history and future of water in our world. The Big Thirst seeks to open people’s eyes to the reality of water in the twenty-first century. Similar to what the book and film, Fast Food Nation did for revealing the atrocities of the United States fast food industry, Thirst delves into people’s water consciousness. For example, do you know where your water goes when it swirls down the drain, flushes down the toilet or leaves your washing machine? A majority of Americans have no idea.

Also consider that most Americans don’t know where the majority of their daily water usage comes from. Do you? In 1999, a group of researchers used electronic water-flow sensors in 1,888 homes for four weeks. The results showed that the primary way American’s use water daily is by flushing the toilet. About five times a day per person if you want to put a figure on it. We literally flush 5.7 billion gallons of water down the toilet a day (Fishman, 2011).

The Big Thirst’s strength stems from Fishman’s ability to storytell. He connects you to your relationship with water in a multitude of ways. Take for example, this excerpt, “Like so much of modern life, safe, reliable water and sewer service is both essential and a complete mystery. We have no idea where our water comes from, we have no idea what happens to it when the dishwasher is done with it. We have no idea what effort is required to get the water to us, and no idea what’s required to get rid of it. That ignorance doesn’t matter, until things start to go wrong.”

Water is an essential resource in our daily lives- and most of us do not understand how much we rely on it, how much goes into getting it to our faucet, and what we would do if it were to stop flowing freely. Charles Fishman explores these questions through fascinating stories intertwining his personal travels to the water bottling plants of San Pellegrino, Italy and Poland Spring, Maine.  The main question being, why don’t we value our most essential resource the way we should?

Top 10 Most Disturbing Things in Our Water

What’s in your water? We at Filters Fast have compiled a list of the top ten most disturbing things found in tap and bottled water. Some of these may surprise you.

#10 – Chlorine

The chlorination of water is a disinfecting method used by water treatment plants to eliminate the presence of bacteria and other microorganisms in city supplies.  This seems beneficial, but consider the consequences: chlorine in water often reacts with other naturally-occurring elements to produce toxins that are carcinogenic. Prolonged exposure has been linked with several adverse health conditions like asthma and several types of cancer.

#9 – Lead

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Lead in water is a major concern for children and pregnant women, as it affects physical and mental development. Although measures taken over the last few decades have drastically reduced the amount of lead in water supplies, it is still often found in houses and buildings with old pipes. Water that sits for long periods of time in corroded pipes can become contaminated and, when drank, result in lead poisoning.

#8 – Cysts

Cryptosporidium and Giardia are two of the most common water-borne microbiological cysts. These protozoan parasites enter lakes and streams through sewage and animal waste. Drinking water from said lakes and streams is not such a good idea, unless you’re sure the cysts have been filtered out. You could end up with a mild to severe gastrointestinal illness.

#7 – BPA

BPA, otherwise known as bisphenol-A, is found in the plastic used in water bottles and other manufactured products. A large number of studies on BPA have found its effects on the body to be toxic. If BPA leaches into bottled water, it could result in many different types of cancer.

#6 – Fluoride

Ah, the Fluoride debate: to fluoridate or not to fluoridate.  Well, some maintain that fluoride in water is beneficial to dental health. Others claim it is linked to bone cancer and can actually cause dental fluorosis with extensive exposure. It’s all a matter of where your priorities lie. Sure you might die of cancer, but at least you can still flash those healthy, strong pearly whites during your funeral visitation, right?

#5 – Fecal Coliforms

Yes, you read that right. While bottled water companies market their product as healthier than tap, many bottles have been found to contain a small percentage of feces. What’s another word for feces?

You don’t want that in your water.

#4 – Pesticides and Herbicides

This might not sound like such a big deal, since pesticides and herbicides are regularly used to farm our world’s food supplies. But whether you eat them or drink them, these substances are toxic, and have been labeled “gender benders.” Studies have found that atrazine, a common herbicide, is able to turn male frogs into female frogs. Farm run-off puts these toxins in our water supplies, so unless you’re trying to induce a sex change, I’d be careful.

#3 – Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals are scary, because they may be harder to filter than all of these other substances. Since pharmaceuticals do not biodegrade, throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet may cause them to end up in your water supply. Ninety percent of pills can pass through humans unchanged, so that human waste becomes a factor as well. Repeatedly ingesting water contaminated with pharmaceuticals can disrupt normal hormone function or lead to cancer.

#2 – Natural Gas

Several homes across the country, all of which are near a local natural-gas drilling site, have witnessed the miracle of flaming tap water. The good news is that it’s easy to test for – hold a lighter up to your faucet. The down side is that you might get burned while doing so.

#1 – Crickets

In the words of Dr. Peter Gleick, “yes, crickets.” Gleick recently published a book called, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water. In it, he discusses the contaminants found in bottled water that most people don’t look for. His examples include a 1994 recall on a Texas-manufactured, bottled, sparkling water that was found to be contaminated with crickets.

I don’t think it gets more disturbing than this, but I could be wrong.  Are these the ten worst things found in tap and bottled water supplies?  Perhaps you have some contaminated water stories you’d like to share.