Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Water; New Oil

There's something like 700 new chemicals – they're called “emerging contaminants” – that come on the market every year. Many of which are not tested for their toxicity, because there's just too many of them. And the questions are, what's the impact of all these things, individually, and what is the combined effect? What happens when that cocktail of things – say, lead, plastic, anti-bacterial soap, Chanel No. 5, narcotics and, say, Viagra – is in the water supply? What does it do to us? Again, we don't know the answer, but these are the cutting-edge questions right now.
We take water for granted. And why not? We turn a tap and out it comes. But that's going to have to change, says author Alex Prud'homme. As he explains in a new book,The Ripple Effect, the basic problem is this: the quantity of water in the world is finite, but demand is everywhere on the rise. As oil was in the 20th century – the key resource, a focus of tension, even conflict – so water will be of the 21st, as states, countries, and industries compete over the ever-more-precious resource. So we need to figure out how to use it more sustainably. But that's not all. In the United States fresh water is under threat from new kinds of barely understood pollutants, from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, and from a last-century infrastructure of pipes, dams, levees, sewage plants that urgently needs upgrading.

We're using our water supplies unsustainably. In America, we can turn the tap on at any time of day and get as much water as we want at any temperature for as long as we want. And, consequently, we take it for granted. Which is unusual: In most places in the world it's very difficult to get water on a regular basis.

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