It’s the one thing we take for granted far more than anything else. Water. Not just any water, but potable (clean enough to drink) water. It is the one thing we cannot survive without. Without water, a person can die after 3 days, and usually no one survives for more than 5-6 days. The body requires a lot of water to maintain an internal temperature balance and keep cells alive. Starve us of food and we’re good for weeks, as long as we have access to water.
In 2017, 1.2 million people died from lack of access to safe potable water, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. To put this into context: this was three times the number of homicides in 2017; and equal to the number that died in road accidents globally. As is usually the case, third world countries were disproportionately affected.
This crises may seem distant now to most Western and wealthy states, but that is about to change, with potable water poised to become the most sought after commodity of our generation.
Plastics and Chemicals in your water
You can no longer drink rain water anywhere on our planet. According to new research, rainwater almost everywhere on Earth is considered unsafe to drink, due to the PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’. Forever chemicals are Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a large family of human-made chemicals that don’t occur in nature.
They are called “forever chemicals” because they can stick around in the environment for decades and they are now present in all our rain water.
If you find that thought depressing, it gets worse. Levels of plastic pollution now reach the furthest and most isolated corners of the planet, even the Arctic. Currents, streams, waves and wind carry marine litter across the seas, while solid waste and wastewater from Arctic communities, and larger communities up-river, contribute to the problem. Plastic debris is found on Arctic beaches, in the water column, in sea ice, sediments and even in the bodies of Arctic birds and mammals.
While the planet may be capable of surviving our best efforts to destroy it, it possesses a fail safe to ensure its survival. Us. Long before we impact the earth to the extent that we change it’s climate for the worse, we will kill ourselves. We are literally polluting and contaminating every source of food and water the planet offers us, and it is the water that will prove telling.
If you’re sipping on a bottle of mineral water while you read this, thinking how fortunate you are, think again.
Microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment and have been detected in a broad range of concentrations in marine water, wastewater, fresh water, food, air and drinking-water, both bottled and tap water. The data on the occurrence of microplastics
in drinking-water are limited at present, with few fully reliable studies using different methods and tools to sample and analyze microplastic particles.
While the effects of ingesting these microplastics are not immediately noticeable, they exert an influence on fertility, cancers and a host of other conditions. In the past six decades, we have produced more than 8.4 billion tons of plastics. Most of it has now ended up in landfills or directly in our natural environment. In fact, only 9% of the plastic used today is recycled.
Traditional water filtration systems are not equipped to deal with microplastics or “forever” chemicals. You are ingesting them in your tap water and your bottled water. While Africans may die within weeks from drinking dirty water, we simply postpone our demise in first world countries. The long term impacts of how we have poisoned our environment are coming home to roost and our healthcare systems will be the first to bear the brunt of this “new World”.
Bottled Water, only $10
Can you imagine a world where water costs more than gas? It isn’t that far off and the first people to pay the price for not being able to afford drinking water will be the poor. Unlike the other inequalities these families suffer, this problem will prove fatal. For those who turn out of desperation to cheaper, more impure alternatives, the consequences, while extending life expectancy slightly, will be dire.
While this may sound like fantastical doom and gloom, it is anything but. Our current world population is just shy of eight billion people. Assuming most of us consume 1 liter of water a day to stay alive, that’s 8 billion liters of water we require on a daily basis. To put that in context, an Olympic sized swimming pool holds 2.5 million liters of water, so that equates to 3118 swimming pools of fresh water. Every day. Over the course of a year, it is well over a million.
Given our current status quo, this is simply unsustainable.
The price of bottled water is gradually increasing. The average price for one unit of bottled water (out of home) in the United States increased from 4.69 U.S. dollars in 2020 to 4.90 dollars in 2021. According to Statista Consumer Market Outlook, the average price for water out of home in the United States will continue to increase and by 2026 reach around 5.76 dollars.
Again, according to Statistica, in 2020, the bottled water market worldwide, generated a revenue of approximately 259.2 billion U.S. dollars. According to estimates of the Statista Consumer Market Outlook, this value is predicted to increase over the coming years with a maximum revenue generation in 2026 with a value of approximately 419.4 billion U.S. dollars.
And here’s the kicker. Remember the early points relating to plastic pollution. In general, PET (plastic) packaging is the most popular type of packaging for beverages worldwide, ahead of glass bottles, and cans. Amongst all packaged or bottled beverages, bottled water has the highest level of consumption. Over one-third of all packaged beverages consumed were water. Ironic, in a really sad way.
By consuming the one thing we need to stay alive, we are poising any hope we have of future access to it.
Do we have options?
Yes, and no. In terms of reducing pollution, we have already reached a point of no return. Plastics and “forever chemicals” stick around in the food chain for generations, accumulating as we go along. Even if we were to stop producing either plastic or using the PFAS chemicals, odds are that over the next two generations we would still see a cumulative increase in levels in drinking water, so bad are our levels of pollutions.
Clearly that isn’t going to happen, and while many people are quick to point a finger at Asia and India as the main polluters, allow me to point out that these countries are the ones that take in the West’s plastic garbage. We simply shift our waste elsewhere and then pretend it no longer impacts us. Nothing could be further from the truth or more irresponsible.
We do have options though, to produce clean, potable drinking water and it involves hydrogen. Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. That water is possibly one of the purest on earth. You can read a more in depth article on this topic here.
It is perhaps important to note here that traditional methods of boiling water, while killing bacterial load, will not in any way reduce the plastic or chemical content of the water. These remain in boiled water. If you are feeding a baby at home and want to ensure they are not contaminated with plastics and chemicals, opt for distilled water for mixing formula. Keep in mind though that the distillation process also removes the natural minerals and electrolytes found in normal water.
The science is still divided on how drinking distilled water affects us, but for babies, sufficient nutrients exist in the baby’s formula to overcome any of these issues. I only drink distilled water and have done for the last ten years and can attest to the fact that it quite safe for every day consumption.
Distilled water is safe to drink, but you’ll probably find the taste flat or bland. That’s because it’s stripped of minerals like calcium, sodium, and magnesium that give tap water its familiar flavor. What’s left is just hydrogen and oxygen and nothing else. Distilled water is produced by boiling water and collecting the steam, the collected vapors forming more water through the process of condensation. All the impurities and anything else in the treated water remain behind as they have a higher boiling point.
The problem here, and with any any of the other processes that produce clean, pollutant free, drinking water, is scale. It’s one thing producing a million liters a day, quite another to produce 8 billion. Withing the next decade, access to really clean, pollutant free, drinking water will become the preserve of those with money.
Protecting our Children
Because children are still developing, they may be more sensitive to the harmful effects of chemicals such as PFAS. They can also be exposed more than adults because they tend to drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, which can increase their exposure to PFAS. It is therefore essential to reduce their exposure by controlling the source of the water they ingest.
Your child’s exposure may begin the womb. Pregnant and lactating women tend to drink more water per pound of body weight than the average person and as a result they may have higher PFAS exposure compared to other people if it is present in their drinking water.
Why are these chemicals such a problem? Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:
- Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
- Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
- Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
- Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
- Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
- Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.
This is quite likely the tip of the iceberg as there are hundreds of these types of chemicals that leech into our water supply and only the most prominent enjoy any serious levels of research.