Contaminated water is in the news. Every day we read about lead, fluoride, arsenic, Flint, EPA, oil spills and more. We worry more now, than ever before about our drinking water, and environmental activism is at an all time high. While I support all efforts to obtain cleaner water for all Americans, I sometimes find myself at odds with public groups calling for cleaner water.
So you may wonder, “how does a guy who specializes in solving water problems bump heads with folks who want their water problems solved? The answer, for a scientist is quite logical, but often for the every-day well-do-er a bit hard to understand.
When I am asked to solve a water problem, I perform what is called a mass balance (MB). A MB takes into account all the water coming into a system, all the chemical treatment being added, and all the contaminants in the water, not just the one causing the revolt. Once all those factors are taken in to account, I analyze the same items on the downside of the system, or in other words, what would the after products be if a new technology or measure was applied.
Herein lays a problem that often pops up when the public gets involved in scientific matters. Too often, activism is aimed only at a specific issue or practice, and it does not look at the potential aftermath. We can focus on not putting fluoride into our drinking water, for instance, but then what? Industry would still have to dispose of the tons of poisonous fluoride, and without a plan it would likely still wind up in our bodies via soil, air, plants and natural water supplies. I want to reiterate three guiding principles that apply to water and to contamination;
- Water is ever changing, it dissolves everything it touches. The environment is always changing, so today’s’ good water may become tomorrow’s toxic water
- Everything man uses will get released back into the environment
- No municipal water treatment plant can guarantee that a new, unsuspected contaminant won’t enter their water supply.
As a result, the best, most effective method for man in the 21st century to guarantee that his tap water is safe, is by installing filtration technology that will provide that quality, regardless of what is in the city lines. Take note that even this is not fail safe because it required operator involvement and maintenance. However, the most effective solutions for drinking water purity are what we call point-of-use solutions. In other words, right at the faucet.