The importance of water can't really be overstated, despite its low sexiness quotient. While we can get by without such voluptuous libations as beer, wine, soda, and single-malt whiskey — however miserably — we can't survive for long without boring old water. But... lucky us, water literally flows from our taps, so we need not worry. Not, at least, if we are named Pollyanna. The rest of us might feel a slight chill at the news brought in the updated edition of Colin Ingram's The Drinking Water Book: How to Eliminate Harmful Toxins from Your Water (Celestial Arts, $14.95).
The chilling news isn't really that municipal tap water from coast to coast is something less than pure. What is disturbing is Ingram's contention that such routine additives as chlorine (a disinfectant used in virtually every municipal water system in the country) and fluoride (a widely deployed weapon against caries) might well cause more problems than they solve. Chlorine combines with organic chemicals already present in water from industrial pollution to form trihalomethanes, which are known carcinogens and, in Ingram's words — and a testament to both the ubiquitous use of chlorine and the pervasiveness of industrial pollution — are "present to some degree in all public water supplies."
Fluoride, meantime, once thought to be a kind of miracle preventive for dental cavities in children, turns out to be a substance whose benefits and detriments to human health are hotly contested. While rates of tooth decay have declined in populations drinking fluoridated tap water, Ingram notes, they have also declined in populations drinking nonfluoridated tap water; and it is suggested in some quarters that fluoride is of a toxicity to humans comparable to that of lead and arsenic.
Ingram lays out these pro and con arguments evenhandedly, but in the end he advises prudence: Don't drink fluoridated water on a regular basis. And don't drink chlorinated water on a regular basis. In other words, don't make a habit of tap water.
What then to do when thirst strikes? The book discusses filtration systems in some detail; even such simple apparatuses as filter pitchers are judged to be worthy. If you must make do with tap water, don't drink the first few seconds of flow, and let the water stand in a pitcher for a few minutes (with a stir or two) so that volatile chemicals can dissipate. Cheers!