Saturday, October 30, 2010

What's in YOUR Water?

Just as many people find it hard to remember life before cell phones, others can barely remember life before bottled water. Do you remember when bottled water was "invented"? I do. We must have all been so primitive and uncultured before then... to think that we all used to drink (*gasp!*) tap water... the horror!

Oh, wait. I still drink tap water, and I think all of you should, too. Now, I'm not normally one to blatantly impose my views on others; as long as your actions aren't affecting me and you're not hurting yourself or anyone else, I'm willing to put up with a myriad of different things. But in this case, I think the actions of bottled water drinkers are hurting themselves and others, and here's why.

We've all heard the alarming statistics of the number of plastic beverage containers that wind up in landfills: they make up 45%-60% of all litter in this country, and the number of bottles discarded last year alone, when stacked end to end, would be enough to reach to the moon and back six times, or something crazy like that. Discarded plastic bottles are also clogging up our oceans, comprising a hefty percentage of the giant patches of garbage floating in our polluted seas; the 21st century version of the plastic six-pack rings people got so fired up about back in the '80s.

I know what you're thinking: "Of course litter is bad. I recycle my plastic bottles. What else have you got?"

If pollution doesn't weigh as heavily on your eco-conscious as it does mine, then consider this. Our government, in its infinite wisdom, passed a great deal of environmental legislation back in the 1970s and 80s, and as a result of pieces of legislation such as the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, all municipalities have to meet very specific criteria when it comes to the treatment of drinking water. This includes regular, daily testing of the water that comes out of our tap. And no, it's not 100% pure, but some minerals are good for us and we can rest assured that it has been tested for a myriad of toxins, and test results came in below the MCLs for each of those toxins. We can use additional in-home filtration systems as an extra safeguard or if we object to the taste, but know that in the 21st century, the water that comes out of the tap in this country has been thoroughly tested and is safe to drink.

Still not convinced? Then consider this: bottled water came onto the scene several years after the afore-mentioned bills were passed, so our government, in its infinite wisdom, delegated the regulation of bottled water to the FDA instead. The FDA is so huge that it can't really test every product under its jurisdiction to the extent that is sometimes needed, and often approves items (such as water) that are "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) without closer inspection. The FDA does not investigate advertising claims of "mountain-pure spring water" and the like, and only gets around to testing bottled water every three to six months... if we're lucky.

Independent testing has since revealed that many of these claims are false, and that most bottled water is just packaged tap water. It's rarely cleaner than what comes out of our faucet, and in some cases the level of contamination is worse. If, for example, bottled water is contaminated during the packaging process, it could take months to detect the toxin, and by that time, thousands of people could have already consumed the tainted water. Tap water contamination is detected and remediated much more swiftly than that.

My final argument against bottled water is this: bottled water came about because giant corporations such as Nestle and Coca Cola and the like found a sneaky new way to increase their sales. They've profited so much from designing clever advertising campaigns and making unfounded health claims about the benefits of their bottled water product, they've monopolized and have all but depleted once-public water sources in areas (such as northern Michigan) just to make a buck. Bottled water is the first step in turning a natural resource into a commodity, and that's a slippery slope to venture down.

Water is vital to our very existence, and the thought of allowing large companies to seize our water supplies and claim ownership of this crucial element is terrifying, indeed. So the next time you reach for an Ice Mountain or a Dasani, I challenge you to stop and think about what you're actually drinking!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Climate Change Exhibit

I practically skipped down to the Museum Campus last week to take advantage of one of the Field Museum's free days, which means reduced-price admission to their normally pricey special exhibits! I've been meaning to go see the Climate Change exhibit (as well as the robotic dinosaurs, which were very cool) all summer, as I'd heard so many good things about it that I wanted to see it for myself.

In my excitement, I arrived at the museum shortly after it opened, and had the entire Climate Change exhibit practically to myself. So I took my time meandering through the aisles, crammed floor to ceiling with historic facts, photos, meteorological diagrams, and flow charts, reading both the interest-piquing tidbits and the heavier scientific evidence behind the findings presented.

Of all the information presented, my only beef with the presentation was with the giant stuffed polar bear picking its way over a mound of garbage. I found the display to be apocalyptic and over the top; the present facts are scary enough, there's no need to make wild predictions about the future.

Although the subject matter was still alarming, it was not alarmist by any means, and I was pleased as punch to see no partisan politics in play whatsoever (which, in my opinion, is exactly as it should be!). The exhibit did exactly what exhibits do best, and that is to present the facts in a clear and concise manner. It's funny, but without partisan rhetoric and cliche talking points, skeptics have a much harder time arguing with the facts!

And the fact is that our planet is getting warmer. The all-encompassing takeaway I left with is that, while the rising temps may be due in part to the natural cycle of the Earth (take heart, skeptics!), our habits and actions as a society certainly aren't helping matters and may in fact be making things worse (hug a tree, hippies!). The exhibit left visitors with a sense of hope, detailing how a few small actions by many could change the trajectory of our future, because the health of the environment and the health of all species (humans are not immune!) are inexorably linked.