#2: Water, water everywhere, but not a drop is clean?

The Question

The water at Smith College is run through a huge filter before it emerges from any faucets or showerheads. A sample of this once-filtered water was then run through a second filter to remove any remaining bacteria, nastiness, etc. This water was then examined under a scanning electron microscope at, I think, a magnification of 16,000x. The twice-filtered water was found to still be ridden with bacteria and small amoeba-like forms, both of which are icky. My question is, what is the point of these filters if they do not completely cleanse water? Are they simply being produced in order to appease the masses, to reassure tham that they are drinking / washing in purified water, when in fact they are drinking / washing in water whose dangers have only been somewhat lessened? Do you think the bacteria found is even dangerous, or just kind of yucky and gross to look at? Is coming into prolonged external or internal contact with icky water going to kill me?

And another thing — where are my PopTarts?

Question by Meghan McQuaid — 9/22/2004 @ 11:56 am

The Answer

Scared of Death Water? Don’t be. Let’s assume that the first filter is a “Solid Carbon Block” style filter (which forces water through densely compressed carbon to suck out bad stuff). After it gets filtered, it has to go through more pipes, then out a shower head – giving it lots of time to pick up a cargo of little micro-organisms. Then it was filtered again – this probably got rid of some more stuff OR “inactivated” the bacteria (meaning it went to the Big Petri Dish in the Sky).

No filter is 100% effective – and even if it was, if the container wasn’t completely sterile, something might be picked up there……and bacteria breeds like rabbits. No, more than rabbits. The other thing to think about is this: maybe the Smith filter is designed to remove impurities like iron, or to soften the water, or something. It could not be intended to take out the bacteria. That would explain a lot.

Luckily, water standards force water providers to get rid of all of the nasty, hurtful stuff that could cause you problems. In fact, you’d be better off showering with tap water than bottled water (a lot of the restrictions on tap water are stricter than those on bottled). I am sure that the water coming out of the faucet will never cause you a health problem, or even a “seeing yuckiness” problem (unless you have microscope eyes – and if you did, you’d see bacteria EVERYWHERE).

In summary, the water may look icky under a microscope but it’s totally cool – no danger. Think about this: what doesn’t look icky when you magnify it? Seeing anything really close up makes it way worse. Like the IMAX theater – Spiderman looks good on a movie screen, but not when he’s huge enough that you can imagine playing basketball in his pores. (Mary Jane Watson is the exception to this rule – no matter how huge the movie screen is, there’s nothing wrong with HER).

I ate your Pop-Tarts.

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