What goes down the drain

When considering the topic of water conservation, what goes down the drain has a huge impact on the quality of water that's available in the water supply. While this may seem obvious, the particular significance here is more subtle than you might think.In this country, Americans have generally learned to expect their water to be clean and safe, whereas in other parts of the world, especially in developing countries, water is assumed to be toxic and harmful unless proven otherwise. (Though studies have shown that bottled water is preferred as a presumably safer alternative to tap water by a significantly larger percentage of U.S. Latino and African-American populations as compared to the Anglo population, the sociological implications of these figures, however important, are not our focus here.) Locally, the City of Downey prepares an annual Water Quality Report, which states that "drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants." These contaminants, according to the report, can be microbial, inorganic, organic, radioactive, or may include pesticides and herbicides. Of these, best known are probably coliform bacteria, including the famous--or should we say infamous--E. coli present in human and animal fecal matter. As the 2008 report indicates, "coliforms are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present." While these pathogens are rigorously scrutinized and controlled, as the Downey Water Quality Report discloses, there are other contaminants entering the water supply which have not as yet been regulated. And that is the particular focus of this article. What we're referring to here is the increasing incidence of what are called PPCPs, which stands for "pharmaceuticals and personal care products." One example will suffice, stumbled upon by this writer, who, through personal experience using an antibacterial soap, absent-mindedly Googled its active ingredient, "triclocarban." Uh-oh. It turns out that triclocarban and its sister triclosan have been widely used in antibacterial products since the early 1990's. Triclocarban is present in most antibacterial bar soaps, and triclosan is used in three-quarters of all liquid soap sold in stores, as well as in toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, and other products. Unfortunately, these chemicals are extremely persistent and are found in a high percentage of river water samples tested. Moreover, they also appear as residue in about 75% of humans tested between the ages of 6 and 65. Furthermore, they have been shown in animal studies to disrupt the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, giving rise to concerns that they may have a role in causing uterine and prostate cancer as well as other growth and reproductive problems. Finally, laboratory studies suggest that their ubiquitous presence in the water supply and waste stream may also be contributing to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Triclocarban and triclosan are not the only chemicals out there in the water supply. There are many other human and natural agents that are cause for concern. But . . . in your own personal assessment of how to respond to the environmental risks around you, the moral of the story is this: Be careful what you wash down the drain.

********** Published: February 16, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 44