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"Drinking Bottled Water? You’re Probably Drinking Plastics." That story and more in the latest edition of "This Week in Water"[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Plastic Particles Found in Bottled Water

Researchers have found large quantities of tiny pieces of plastic in more than 90 percent of bottled water they tested. The bottles came from nine different countries including the U.S., and in the worst case, they found 10,000 particles in a bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, according to The Guardian. The study was done by the State University of New York in Fredonia and was commissioned by the non-profit group, Orb Media. Orb said that some of the plastic was as large as the width of a human hair, and some down to the size of a red blood cell.

While there is not yet clear evidence that these plastics can affect human health, the World Health Organization said it was an emerging area of concern and will review the risks. Orb said on its website that as many as 90 percent of the plastic particles consumed may pass through the human gut. But other particles could lodge in the intestinal wall or travel through the body’s lymphatic system. It is not known how the plastics get into the bottled water, whether from the air, through the packaging process, from opening caps or in the water itself. In a different study, tap water by comparison was found to have half as many plastics.

Plastic Water Bottles Themselves Come Under More Criticism

Besides the alarm over plastics found in bottled water, attention is also focused on the plastic containers themselves. Last week museums, restaurants, and dozens of shops in London offered free tap water in an effort to persuade people not to buy plastic bottles. The Huffington Post reports that the UK consumes 32 million single-use bottles per day—only half of which get recycled.

The environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch reports that the majority of water sold in plastic bottles comes from municipal sources and is selling at 2,000 times the price of tap water, and even four times the price of gasoline. The organization also reports that much of the raw materials used to make all these bottles comes from natural gas produced by fracking, the method of injecting water and chemicals into underground formations to release gas and oil deposits.

Court Orders Hearing on Climate Science

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing oil companies to hold them responsible for harm caused by global warming. The judge in the case has scheduled something never heard of before—an in-court tutorial on the science about climate change. The judge set aside five hours on March 21st for each side to present the history of the study of climate change, and the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise, and coastal flooding.

This could be the first time such a hearing has ever taken place, according to McClatchy, and it will include lawyers for Exxon, BP, and other oil companies matching up against lawyers and experts for both cities who say the oil giants covered up their contributions to global warming. Federal Judge William Alsup seems to have framed the in-court presentation around what the oil companies knew and when they knew it. And even more importantly, what they did after knowing that global warming has been taking place. Mike Burger of the Columbia Law School said that the core of the cities’ case is that the companies have long known about the risks of their products, but took action to avoid regulation and sought to keep their products on the market as long as possible.

Bangalore Facing Water Stress

While attention has lately been focused on the possibility of Cape Town running out of water, another city facing increased stress is Bangalore, India. Bangalore’s population has doubled over the last 15 years to about 10 million, as it developed into the Silicon Valley of India, and as new housing continues to rise, there is not even enough water for those already there.

Many of the city’s lakes have been covered with concrete for new apartments, and most of the water in existing lakes is so polluted it cannot be used except for irrigation and cooling. Agence France Presse reports that at least half of the city’s residents get their water from hundreds of tanker trucks filled from groundwater wells, because there are not enough water mains. An ecologist with the Indian Institute of Science says that the city has enough rainfall to provide water for its people, but it needs to harvest it more effectively. Without doing so, Bangalore may run out of water.

The problem he says is a fragmented and uncoordinated government. Groundwater pumping is largely unregulated and is being depleted. But on a positive note, the city now requires new housing developments to have built in systems to collect rainwater. Still, last month the BBC listed Bangalore as the second most likely city to run out of water after Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Tapping into Taste—None of Us Will Mind Drinking Recycled Water

There was a blind taste test recently where people were asked to rank the taste, smell, and color of drinks. This wasn’t a Coke vs. Pepsi challenge. The participants were sampling three types of water: groundwater-based tap water, commercial bottled water—and something called IDR water. What’s IDR water? It stands for “indirect potable reuse” and it is a technology for treating wastewater and recycling it into drinking water systems—something that’s been branded: “toilet to tap.” So which water won? The groundwater definitely was least liked, and the IDR water and bottled water came in about the same. The groundwater likely fared worse because it still contains a lot of minerals that affect the taste. IDR and bottled water are highly treated which removes the types of tastes that people tend to dislike.

The study was conducted by researchers at UC Riverside who are hoping to make recycled water less scary as it will likely by an important source for California as the climate changes. Previously, focus on recycled water has been on safety, and studies have found that IDR removes virtually all contaminants. In fact, six water agencies in the state already use the technology including Los Angeles.

Every year, March 22nd is World Water Day, and last year the focus was on wastewater. It’s important to remember that two thirds of the world’s population currently experience water scarcity for at least one month a year, and recycled water will likely play an important role to mitigate that problem.

Music Credits: The Fixer, Funkygroove  | Qin, Dr.Guonake  | Jah Moon, Sun Ska Riddim Originale  |  Scott Holmes, Cat and Mouse  |  Grégoire Lourme, Rain  |  Maze, Dark Clouds  |  Creative Commons

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