a glass of water, hydrated in hot weather, water-only fasting

Tune in to our radio show on your local public radio station, or sign up for the podcast and listen at your leisure. Here’s what it’s about:

How safe is our drinking water? Where does it come from? Over the centuries, people have had to go to great lengths to find clean water.

Nowadays, we rarely pay much attention to the infrastructure of water, but perhaps we should. In some places, wells offer a terrible choice between a long walk or slow poisoning. And in this country, our water supply infrastructure has been out of sight, out of mind for a very long time.

Although the chlorination of municipal water supplies was a huge advance at the turn of the 20th century, now we take it for granted and worry about the downsides of chlorine for our health. Should you be filtering your home tap water?

At the end of the 20th century, water that had been free from the tap or a public fountain was replaced by bottled water with a great cool factor. How did we all decide we needed to buy our water in bottles? Is it really better?

What about fracking: should we be concerned about whether it will negatively affect our drinking water supply? Is our water supply vulnerable to terrorism?

Guest: James Salzman is the Samuel Fox Mordecai Professor of Law at the School of Law and the Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. His book is Drinking Water: A History.

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. ron

    Filtering removes vital minerals and other good stuff. ???!!!Best to take a multi mineral to restore these to ourselves???!!!

  2. ABN

    One more thing, please. We have a water softener that softens all the well water that comes into the house, including shower, drinking, etc. Is that a bad thing? I can’t imagine drinking unfiltered softened water.

  3. FP

    Thank you for Dr. Salzman’s comments. I will continue allowing Palm Beach County to take care of my water needs.

  4. Jim Salzman

    This is Jim Salzman, and I’m grateful you took the time to comment. Here are some brief thoughts.
    Mary — There is no data to date that the fracking fluids injected deep underground have made their back into shallow aquifers. The contamination occurs when the fluids are brought up to the surface and either escape through cracks in the concrete pipe seal or improper disposal on the surface.
    SDK — I commend your strong feelings about the subject and the fact that you clearly can distinguish between treated and untreated water, but the fact is that the vast majority of Americans are indifferent to the taste of bottled water. That’s why blind taste tests continue to find that tap water tastes better than bottle water and why all the major producers of bottled water seek to provide similarly flat tastes. This stands in stark contrast to the bottled water market in Europe. In retrospect, reflecting your concern, I should have said that most Americans do not care about the taste of bottled water.
    Mark — You’re quite right that pH is controlled in municipal water systems to ensure that pipes are not calcified. Based on your suggestion, I plan on looking into data on any health impacts that this pH control might cause.
    ABN — I do not filter my water but have many friends who do and I think it’s an entirely reasonable action, particularly if you rely on well water. Most over-the-counter filters rely on activated carbon (basically charcoal) to remove unwanted substances. These filters are pretty good at removing some organic compounds, chlorine and sediment. They are less effective in removing salts, minerals, microorganisms, or the whole of class of “emerging contaminants” that we discussed on the show. I haven’t looked into the issue of whether Brita is better or worse than other filters.

  5. ABN

    What does Dr.Salzman say about filters, specifically Brita?
    People’s Pharmacy response: We did not ask about brands, but he said if you are on a well, filtering your water makes sense.

  6. Mark

    What about the pH of the water we are drinking? Whether we are drinking alkaline or acidic water is very important as to what our health status will be. So many of the bottled waters are VERY acidic and many that are alkaline are made that way by an additive. Municipal water is made neutral by additives not for the benefit of the consumer but to keep water pipes from rusting. The pH factor needs to be addressed on the water quality issue.

  7. SDK

    I am listening to this program as I write, and I just want to say that Mr. Salzman is wrong. What on earth would make him say people don’t buy bottled water for the taste? I lived in the country for 12 years and had an artesian well, so I completely weaned my children and myself from chlorinated, fluoridated, chemical-ated water, and absolutely cannot stand the taste of tap water of any sort. When I moved to town, it took one glass of their tap water to send me off to the store to buy spring water. That was 10 years ago, and I still buy spring water to this day. I do use tap water for cooking if the ratio of water to the other ingredients is low because it does change the taste of coffee, tea, soups, etc. The array of chemicals added to tap water most definitely changes its taste and it is something I can immediately taste.
    As for Mr. Salzman’s assumption that ‘bottled water’ means Aquafina or Desanti or one of the other purified tap waters, they are horrible. My job provides Pure Life water for free but I bring in spring water. One day last week, I had run out of spring water and was quite thirsty so I tried one of the Pure Life. I threw away the bottle after one drink that I could barely swallow. All I could taste was chemicals! HORRID!

  8. Mary

    Dear Joe and Dr. Terry, Enjoy all your shows and comments. However I would like to point out one fact about fracking and drinking water. Fracking is done at 20,000 feet and drinking water is drilled at 2,000 feet and above. Is it possible for the fracking elements to enter our drinking supplies at such a low drilling depth?

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