An excellent new book tells the story of our drinking water crisis by focusing, in particular, on the bitter dispute that erupted between the townspeople of Fryeburg, Maine, and Nestle's Poland Spring, which wanted to bottle their water. Bottlemania, by Garbage Land author Elizabeth Royte, will be out in bookstores in the coming weeks (you can pre-order it at Royte's website, Bottlemania.net).
Royte and I spoke on the phone, yesterday, about the most recent drinking water scare, the Associated Press report that traces of a variety of pharmaceuticals can be found in our tap water (you can find my response to that report here). Here are Royte's thoughts on what can be done about the drugs in the water:
- To put the problem into perspective, there are much higher levels of hormones and antibiotics in our meat and milk.
- None of us should put our unused drugs down the toilet and pharmaceutical companies should institute some sort of take back scheme so drugs are safely disposed.
- Municipalities, with help from the federal government, should invest in existing drinking water treatment technologies that can remove the drugs.
- To offset the costs of the use of these technologies, rain water collection and gray water reuse systems should be established so less water requires treatment.
- Drug makers should be encouraged to reformulate their products to break down quickly and harmlessly in the environment so they can't end up back in our drinking water in the first place.
- Since 90% of antibiotics are used on farm animals, new regulations must be put in place to ensure that antibiotics excreted by them don't end up in our drinking water.
Lastly, here is a paragraph from Bottlemania, which encapsulate Royte's good, balanced approach to the question of public tap water versus privatized bottled water:
"I come away from my investigations," she writes, "with at least one certainty: not all tap water is perfect. But it is the devil we know, the devil we have standing to negotiate with and improve. Bottled water companies don't answer to the public, they answer to shareholders. As Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman write in Thirst, 'If citizens no longer control their most basic resource, their water, do they really control anything at all?'"