Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ask Bill: Drinking Water Safety

Welcome to this week's “ASK BILL”



Bill has been overwhelmed by the number of requests that he receives from people asking him a variety of questions related to science and scams that circulate on the Internet and elsewhere. To manage his time effectively, Bill has decided to do a weekly fun and educational "Ask Bill" segment.

Every Wednesday, Bill will choose one question from his e-mails and answer another science or hoax question. Get your questions into him ASAP.


Check out below for today's question about: "Is city water safe to drink?


Answer:

This week's question is quite interesting.

I was sent a link to a Facebook post about a guy (we will call Jean-Claude) who is complaining about the quality of Windsor's drinking water. I will admit that this is an area I don't have that much knowledge in but I have taken one course on water treatment and health so I have the beginnings of an understanding in this.

Jean-Claude's concern was about the chlorine concentration and also asking “doesn't chlorine lower immune systems, cause cancer and other bad stuff?” He showed a picture of a pool water testing kit which he claimed contained tap water (I will assume he was honest in that claim). He suggested that the concentration was at pool level (1.0..although when I look at the photo it appears to be at 0.5) and also claimed that since people say that you shouldn't drink pool water, then that means the tap water is unsafe. He also made a claim that showering for 15 mins allows for you to absorb 1 gallon of water through the skin by absorption.

There is a lot to go through here but lets get to the short answer first. Is the city water safe to drink? Yes. According to Enwin, “Chlorine is added on a continuous basis to the water leaving the treatment process at a strictly controlled concentration of 1.5 mg/l...the concentration of chlorine in the water is monitored at 18 locations through the distribution system on a daily basis to ensure an adequate concentration is maintained to ensure a safe supply of water to the customers.”

In regards to “lowers immune systems, causes cancer and other bad stuff”: “Health Canada has classified chlorine as unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans. Studies in laboratory animals and humans indicate that chlorine exhibits low toxicity, regardless of the route of exposure (i.e., ingestion, inhalation, dermal). Studies in animals have not been able to identify a concentration of chlorine associated with adverse health effects, in part because of aversion to its taste and odour. No adverse health effects have been observed in humans from consuming water with high chlorine levels (up to 50 mg/L) over a short period of time.” Now some people may not like the taste or smell of chlorine but they can easily install a filter in their home to remove it.

Jean-Claude said you shouldn't drink pool water. This I agree with, but not for the same reasons Jean-Claude thinks. He thinks it's because of the chlorine content. I would say it's because a pool is an open system where it has continual exposure to pollutants. People are swimming in the pool just for starters. Would you want to drink water from a bath tub that had someone was bathing in? I would think it unlikely. A pool also has insects (and other animals including birds), dirt and debris all entering it. Water from your tap is not accessible to the same type of contamination with the exception of water pipe breakage. You may also be interested in this article I wrote (under a pseudonym) about the problems with enclosed pools and water parks: http://www.windsorsquare.ca/archives/67286/why-i-avoid-indoor-water-parks

So now to the final claim of water absorption through the skin. This is the real reason why I chose this question because I do love laughable claims and this one sure made me laugh that I did my best Mark Wahlberg impression from The Happening.

Seriously though, the skin can absorb some things although it generally is water-resistant but is not water-proof. It's the keratin and sebum (an oil), that helps keep it at bay. You can see its effectiveness when you start to prune when in water too long. So yes it can absorb some water, but it wouldn't be enough to stop you from dehydrating. A gallon of water is a lot of water considering we only need to consume 2.5 quarts, or just over half a gallon, per day depending on individual needs. By Jean-Claude's meter, we would never have to consume water. It is interesting to note that during my looking up info for all this, I found a Danish group did do a study, albeit a small and no control study, to test an old myth of getting drunk by absorption of alcohol through the skin. As you can probably guess, it was confirmed a myth.

Well I hope that answers your question.

Sources:
http://www.enwin.com/customerservice/residential/faqs.water.cfm#15
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/…/wate…/chlorine-chlore/index-eng.php
http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6812

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*For over 30 years, Bill has been a professional magician and has traveled all across Canada, performing for all ages. Along with his passion for entertaining, Bill is an educator and life-long learner. He continues to study biology, psychology, neuroscience and chemistry.  Bill has also written many articles on science and scams for various blogs, newspapers and other publications.

Visit his business site, Nuvo Entertainment: www.nuvoentertainment.com