Safe Drinking – Water Fit to drink?

You probably don’t think of water as a food but water is just as valuable as anything you eat. A massive 60% to 65% of your body is water! (The figure is even higher for a baby. Approximately 75% of a baby’s weight is water). If you didn’t eat and didn’t drink it would be the shortage of water which killed you first. You could survive for weeks without food but you would be dead within about seven days without water.

Your body’s need for water varies according to the outside temperature. When the weather outside is hot your body will deliberately lose water as sweat to try to keep your internal body temperature low. However, even when the outside temperature is fairly low your body will still lose some water in urine, in faeces and as evaporation from your skin, and will need that water replacing if you are to stay alive. You lose about two litres of water a day even when the weather isn’t warm.

You don’t have to drink your daily fluid requirements as water or as fluid, of course. Your intake of water is supplemented by the water which is present in many of the foods you eat. Some fruits and vegetables contain 90% water! To that you can add the fact that the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein leads to the production of yet more water. On balance the average sized human being, living in a fairly average climate, will need at least two or three litres of fluid a day in order to satisfy his or her body’s requirements, to maintain healthy kidneys and to stay in good health.

Most of us take it for granted that the water we obtain by

Turning on our taps will be fresh and pure. Sadly, however, there is a growing amount of evidence to show that the water most of us get when we turn on the tap isn’t always quite as pure as we like to think it is.

There are four reasons why your drinking water may not be as pure as you would like:

First, much of our drinking water is contaminated with nitrates. The nitrates get into the water supplies when formers use large quantities of artificial fertiliser. The nitrates from the fertiliser seep down into the ground and eventually find their way into the water supplies. Just what damage nitrates can do to the human body is still something of a mystery, though some people believe that they may be linked to a variety of serious disorders, including cancer.

The second problem is that many of the facilities for extracting and supplying water to the developed world are now getting rather old. Many water pipes were laid during the nineteenth century and throughout the developed world there are many people who still get their water pumped through lead pipes. Unfortunately, water that passes through lead piping has a nasty tendency to pick up quite a bit of lead before it gets to the tap. And lead in the drinking water can lead to many serious problems—including damage to the brain and the central nervous system.

The third problem comes from the fact that the people whose job it is to provide us with clean water often use chemicals to disinfect, sterilise, purify or otherwise cleanse the water they are selling. Two of the substances which they are most likely to use are chlorine and aluminium sulphate and both these substances may cause problems. It is now suspected that one of the substances that is produced when chlorine mixes with the acids which naturally occur in peaty soils may cause intestinal cancer. And aluminium sulphate, used partly to help remove the acids which might otherwise interact with the chlorine to create cancer producing chemicals, and partly to take the discoloration out of peaty water, may cause problems too. The

Worry is that there may be a link between the drinking of aluminium rich water and the development of premature senility—in particular Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the dangers which may exist when chlorine and aluminium sulphate are added to drinking water supplies in ordinary quantities there is the extra hazard of what can happen when large quantities of a chemical are accidentally dumped into drinking water—as has happened.

The fourth reason why modern drinking water supplies might be hazardous to your health involves the deliberate adding of chemicals to water in order to keep us ‘healthy*. The substance most commonly added is fluoride and this is in the hope that it will help reduce the incidence of tooth decay.

The link between fluoride and tooth decay was first established at the end of the nineteenth century and there is little doubt that fluoride does help to protect the teeth by making tooth enamel—the hard outside covering of teeth—tougher and more decay resistant. When tests done on large numbers of people showed that tooth decay is slower in those parts of the country where drinking water supplies naturally contain fluoride some scientists and politicians suggested that putting fluoride into the drinking water supplies might improve the dental health of the general population. The fluoridation of water supplies began in America in 1945 and today the move towards fluoridation is spreading all over the world. Politicians are enthusiastic about using fluoride in this way because the end result is, of course, to cut health costs.

However, those who oppose fluoridation are able to put forward several arguments in their favour.

First, you do not, of course, have to add fluoride to drinking water in order to protect teeth. You can get exactly the same effect by persuading people to use fluoride toothpastes. And since many toothpastes now do contain fluoride most people already get all the fluoride they need simply by brushing their teeth.

Second, there is no doubt that putting fluoride into drinking

Water supplies is a potentially dangerous business. The amount of fluoride that you can put into drinking water has to be judged very accurately. To get the best effect from the fluoride you need to add around one part per million. However, if you get the sums wrong the consequences can be devastating. Just two parts of fluoride per million can cause mottling of the teeth and if the quantities are allowed to rise a little higher bone disorders and cancer may be the result.

Naturally, the scientists and politicians who are keen on putting fluoride into our drinking water supplies claim that the methods used are foolproof but I think that one would have to be a fool to believe that! Many people have already been poisoned by accidental overdoses of chemicals and in 1986 the World Health Organization published a report in which concern was expressed about the incidence of dental problems caused by there being too much fluoride in public drinking water supplies. Needless to say, getting unwanted, excess fluoride out of the drinking water supplies can be extremely difficult.

To all this we must add the fact that since drinking water supplies already contain a number of chemicals—some of which occur naturally in the supplies, nitrates which accumulate because of the use of fertilizers, chlorine and aluminium sulphate which are added deliberately and lead or copper from the pipes which are used to supply the water to our homes— adding fluoride to the mixture may increase the risk of a dangerous interaction between the various chemicals in the water. Whenever chemicals exist in solution together there are chemical reactions. I don’t think anyone really knows what the consequences are of putting all these chemicals into our drinking water.

The fourth and fluoridation argument is that a growing number of people seem to be allergic to the chemicals which are being put into our drinking water. Many people are allergic to fluoride and cannot drink fluoridated water.

Finally, I am particularly worried by the fact that as the pro fluoridation argument is won in more and more parts of the

World, scientists and politicians are suggesting putting other chemicals into drinking water. One scientist has, for example, already suggested that drinking water should have antibiotics added to it (to reduce the incidence of infection and so to reduce health costs). Another has recommended that tranquillisers be added (in order to calm down the voters and allow the politicians to get on with running the world the way they want to run it). A third suggestion has been that contraceptives be added to the drinking water in order to reduce the birth rate.


Every time you drink a glass of water you may be drinking secondhand drugs!

Millions of people now regularly take powerful drugs such as sleeping tablets, pain killers and hormonal contraceptive pills. After a drug has been taken it is metabolised (or broken down) before it is excreted and some of the most powerful and most widely prescribed drugs leave the body in much the same form as they entered it. For example, 75% of a dose of diazepam (one of the world’s most popularly prescribed benzodiazepine tranquillisers) leaves in the urine of the person who has taken it as another version of the drug. A third of a dose of ampicillin (a widely prescribed antibiotic) is excreted in the urine within six hours of the pill or capsule being swallowed.

Once domestic waste water leaves our homes it goes to sewage treatment plants where it is ‘purified’ using standard techniques (many of them devised and perfected in the nineteenth century) which are intended to remove bacteria and other obvious contaminants. Once these unwanted additions have been removed the apparently ‘clean’ water goes back into circulation as drinking water.

There is, however, a big problem which I first wrote about ten years ago but which has been largely ignored. (One TV producer told me the idea was too frightening to broadcast.).

Although water purification methods are effective at

Removing bacteria and obvious waste materials from ‘dirty’ water the purification processes are not able to remove all the drug and hormone residues from the sewage.

The result is that when allegedly pure domestic waste water is put back into our water supply systems it still contains many different drug residues—chemicals derived from antibiotics, heart drugs, tranquillisers, sleeping pills, and depressants, pain killers and contraceptive pills. (It also, inevitably, contains residues of other chemicals such as toiletries, shampoos, cosmetics and garden and kitchen products).

So, when you turn on your kitchen tap and fill your kettle you could be getting water that contains secondhand tranquil-Users, secondhand heart drugs, secondhand contraceptive hormones and other substances. And as the years go by, so the whole process will get worse and worse. Each time another human being somewhere in the cycle takes another tablet the water you drink could become more polluted. Much drinking water has already become terribly contaminated with secondhand drugs and everyone who drinks water which has been purified from sewage effluent or extracted from a river into which sewage effluent has been discharged must inevitably be taking small quantities of a large variety of prescription drugs. Remarkably little research has been done to find out just how significant this problem is but when scientists tested river water they found detectable amounts of progestogen (one of the ingredients of the contraceptive pill) in it. Research carried out in Germany showed that the amount of oestrogen (another ingredient of the contraceptive pill) seems to be increasing in surface water supplies. What effects are all these hormones and drugs having on us? Are we all being tranquillised by secondhand tranquillisers and sleeping tablets? What effect do all these hormone residues have on pregnant women and their developing babies? (After all the manufacturers of many drugs warn that their products should not be given to pregnant women). What effect are all these hormones having on men? Are we creating a new race of intersexual beings?

Doctors have begun to investigate these problems. We should know the answers in another decade or so. It will, of course, be far too late to do anything about it by then.


If you suffer from any bizarre or otherwise inexplicable symptoms consider the possibility that your drinking water may be polluted. And it could be the water which is making you ill. This is particularly likely if you have acquired new and unusual health problems after recently moving house.

Small babies should be breast fed for as long as possible— ideally for up to twelve months. Breast feeding a baby reduces the risk of the baby being poisoned by polluted water or milk (though it does not reduce the risk to nil since drugs are excreted in breast milk).

If you suspect that any symptoms which you have could be caused by drinking water obtained from a tap, try drinking bottled water instead to see if your symptoms disappear.

If you live in the country and you can do so, you may be better off obtaining your water from a private water supply. But do make sure that you get your water tested before drinking it.

Even if you obtain your water from a commercial company or government owned concern you would be wise to have it tested—as it comes out of the tap.

You can buy table top small filters which remove many contaminants from drinking water. If you buy and use one of these devices make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you suspect that your drinking water supplies are of poor quality make your protests heard by your political representatives. Things will never change if you do not protest.