Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Letters to the Editor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Letters to the Editor

Article excerpt

Contaminant levels and drinking water safety

Regarding your March 11 editorial, "Reduce drug traces in tap water": The referenced Associated Press report on drugs in drinking water acknowledges that the reported amounts are tiny and the effects of these amounts are unknown. But too many people lose sight of how many molecules there are in a teaspoon of anything and how incredibly sensitive modern chemical analyses have become, and incorrectly infer that toxic substances cannot be diluted to innocuous concentrations. The toxicity or efficacy of any substance is a matter of amounts. Potassium is injected into the bloodstream at toxic levels to execute criminals for capital murder, but nutritionists strive for enough potassium in foods to avoid hypokalemia.

A single aspirin tablet uniformly dispersed into the entire annual United States domestic and municipal water consumption would add 27 million molecules of acetylsalicylic acid to every cupful of that water. That concentration falls well below present detection limits, but new techniques continually increase the sensitivity and specificity of analytical methods. If a new supersensitive method were devised, should we then require all water purveyors to test to those levels and require all people to return their unused aspirin? No. We need more common sense in reporting on the minuscule amounts of the many chemicals that surround us.

Richard M. Peekema Retired analytical chemist San Jose, Calif.

In response to your recent editorial on drug traces in drinking water: Americans are right to be concerned by reports of prescription drugs in their water. But this should not scare people away from their taps and into buying bottled water - an expensive and less safe choice. As suggested, bottled water was not tested for drug traces and is currently not being tested for known hazards such as bacteria, synthetic contaminants, or heavy metals. Solving our water infrastructure problem is a national concern that will not be resolved by turning to bottled water.

Congress needs to provide funding for communities around the country that are struggling to maintain and upgrade aging water systems. …

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