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There's Cyanide In Miami's Drinking Water

Oct 17, 2007
How does that hit you? When I think cyanide I think of the captured movie spy who pops a pill from a secret compartment to kill himself to avoid being subjected to some evil torture machine. But perhaps I watch too many movies.

Most people understand that cyanide is bad. I think most people understand that cyanide is in fact poisonous. So why the heck is there cyanide in Miami's water? And it's not just limited to Miami - there is cyanide in many municipal water supplies across the United States. What may come as a bigger surprise is that cyanide is allowed to be in municipal water supplies. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that as long as your water has less than 200 ppb of cyanide in it, it's safe to drink.

The US EPA says that there can be all sorts of bad stuff in your water, but just not too much. Phoenix has arsenic. Los Angeles has Trihalomethane. Philadelphia has a soil fumigant called Carbofuran and Baton Rouge is blessed with Di (2-ethylhexyl) Pthalate - a human carcinogen used in making plastics. You don't need a Ph. D in investigative journalism to find this information either. Each of these cities divulged this information in their 2006 municipal water reports. Despite these toxins being admittedly present in their water each of these cities has "safe water" under the existing federal guidelines.

To understand how substances known to cause cancer, miscarriages, and even death can be present in any concentration in our drinking water, one has to delve into a few of the fundamentals of Science and Economics.

Let's use lead as an example. Ancient Romans processed their wine using lead containers because it imparted a sweet flavor to the liquid. Scientists a few thousand years later figured out that was a really bad idea and that consuming lead in water, paint, dust or from any other source was dangerous to neurological health - especially in kids. With all the recent hoopla about lead in toys from China why does the EPA say that water is safe to drink as long as it has less than 10 ppb?

The answer lies first in the scientific process. In order for the EPA to question the existing standard some scientist somewhere in the world needs to prove that any lead consumed is dangerous. Once this is established the problem is viewed through the lens of economics. It must be shown that bringing lead levels down to zero in municipal water supplies across the USA is economically desirable and feasible.

So, the existing "safe" levels are a function of the present scientific understanding of what is "dangerous" weighed against the price tag to remove something from the water everywhere across the USA. That doesn't exactly give me a warm fuzzy. Science is iterative by nature. What's considered safe today is often revealed to be dangerous later on. Lead went from making wine tastier to causing brain damage in kids. Look no further than DDT and Thalidomide as modern day examples of the useful turned disastrous. And the economics of water purification certainly don't instill any more confidence than science. The last thing I want to know is that it's some guy's job to determine if it costs the state more to clean up my water or to have me in a hospital with cancer at age 64.

So in the face of constantly changing science and questionable economic influence the choice for me is clear. For a measly three hundred bucks I can buy a water filter that removes almost everything bad that's in my water. This protects me and my family from the fickleness of science and the omnipresent influence of the almighty dollar.

While I pour myself a glass of home-purified H2O and enjoy another spy flick on the tube, the rest of you can enjoy your cyanide, arsenic, and Di Hexyl Methyl whatever.
About the Author
C. Reid Thornley is a B.Sc. Biology and a former research associate for a world class water purification manufacturer. He has been a presenter for the US Water Quality Association and he now owns and operates aQuatell - Water Purification Made Easy!
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