Posting in Environment
A review of Drinking Water: A History, by James Salzman.
"New grin, art kid?"
Read, knit, wring.
James Salzman, a former Fulbright scholar who earned unprecedented honors at Harvard before becoming a professor of law and environmental policy at Duke University, has built himself a flawless résumé. Not to be outdone, I built a few anagrams from the name of his latest book, Drinking Water: A History (Overlook Duckworth, $27.95). True, I only rearranged the first half of the title; I was aiming for Raymond Carvers's tone and minimalism.
Water must usually be paired with something to make it exciting: a Super Soaker, a hovercraft, a bong. Salzman spent seven years on this project, a non-linear crisscross of Bible excerpts, doomed expeditions, ancient infrastructures, global customs, philosophical ruminations, corporate takeovers, political glad-handing, reversals of snobbery and modern oblivion, where "unsafe drinking water is the single largest killer in the world."
When your potential audience is comprised of people who require water to live (everyone) and people who can read and write (83.7 percent of us who are age 15 or older, worldwide), Salzman's enunciation and physicality seep through the page. We relate as he clasps his hands and smiles between heavy breaths. He has the ability to tone down the academic thunder while bracing us -- genially -- for an assault of terrifying facts. Drinking Water makes fine plane reading, although I wouldn't advise a quick skim in between the closing credits of A Civil Action and the opening sequence of Erin Brockovich.
There are two reactions to the news that all water contains traces of mineralized arsenic, fracking can lead to "methane faucet fires" (YouTubed proof), and terrorists could launch "major attacks on American water supplies." You might unleash a Class A conniption and call everyone you know, taking some satisfaction in delivering this warning.
Or you think...meh. Everyday we're told of a new thing that might kill us: artificial sweetener, cellphones, oversleeping, under-sleeping, lava lamps, grapefruit, Segways, x-rays, bottle caps (R.I.P. Tennessee Williams, Pultizer Prize-winning playwright).
Here's the big secret (if you don't want to go on a 258-page, suspense-induced liquid fast, plus an obligatory preface, intro, afterward, end notes and index): take the tap water. Drink it up! "We seem to have a particular blind spot when it comes to bottled water," Salzman writes. "The nutritional label on a bottle of water suggests the complete lack of anything unhealthy...what we don't see, however, is what we ought to care about and information that, in fact, is mandated for public water sources -- the levels of chlorine, coliform bacteria, trihalomethanes, nitrates, turbidity, et cetera." (Italics mine.)
To reiterate: "Compared to tap water, bottled water is subject to weaker regulations, much less frequent monitoring, largely meaningless labeling, and broad exemptions." Added buzzkill: Perrier, Poland Spring and San Pellegrino are Nestlé; Dasani is Coke; Aquafina is Pepsi.
Say I had Professor Salzman on speed dial (if all cellphones weren't speed dialers). I'd acknowledge the weak preface and the repetitions before giving him grief for starting chapter one with, "In the winter of 1512, Juan Ponce de León had it all."
Still, I'd reassure him that, somehow, his nonstop rhetorical questions didn't bother me, even if they were more plentiful then those in The New York Times review of Guy Fieri's restaurant. As I read, the same questions pleaded for answers (in both the book and the review).
Then I'd compliment Salzman on using only one horrible aquatic pun in the entire text, especially since he heard plenty from family, friends and collaborators. Also, I'm awestruck that he was able to locate a trio of aptronyms (names that perfectly fit their owners): Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst; Alice Waters, "high priestess of the local food movement," who banned bottled water from the menu of her restaurant, Chez Panisse; and Salzman himself, who advocates desalinization as a way to turn ocean water drinkable.
Refreshingly, Salzman gives a few recommendations to our world water epidemic, although their feasibility is iffy and he clarifies that it's our government's duty to act -- or else. We could push icebergs towards the Equator. Harvesting rainwater has never been seriously pursued. Raising water taxes would help replace Civil War-era pipes (in the U.S., a major pipeline bursts every two minutes).
And then there's this option: "In May 2009, astronauts aboard the International Space Station first drank water recycled from their own urine...The American astronaut Michael Barratt claimed, 'the taste is great...We're going to be drinking yesterday's coffee frequently up here, and happy to do it.'"
Dec 20, 2012
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Finding reliable sources of drinking water is a monumental problem for at least 40% of the world's population. Finding solutions to the encroachment of brackish water into the water systems of coastal cities throughout the world, including those in Western Europe and the US, is a monumental problem. Finding affordable water, whether from tap or bottles or sachets, is becoming a monumental problem. When these rudimentary facts - aid programs designed to address water and sanitation problems around the world have been dismal failures for a host of reasons AND the large beverage companies are trying to buy all available sources of fresh water supplies in many countries - are considered, we need to listen to those of us who are defining drinking water problems in terms of realistic solutions for the benefit of all people, not just the profiteers.
I'm sure that the Government regulations on water may be strick, who knows. However I rather buy water than drink it out of my faucet when those pipes have been around for many year and I can imagine what is hiding inside them. If your shower sprayer and other faucets in your home gets black sometimes I can imagine again where that black fungus is coming from and where it hides. you sure don't want any of those germs in your stomach. People reading this comment don't take your chances. Happy Holidays to all...
Edwin, with all due respect, that's pure pap. Probably 99% of all domestic water supplies are at least as pure as most bottled water. I only wish I'd thought of the bottled water scam first, then I'd be retired. It's the most successful sales scam ever invented. Where else can you make profits in the thousand percentage brackets AND litter the world with plastic.