Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Uisce Beatha: Water of Life:

The Waters of Life.

“When I was at school in the early eighties I had a friend called William Hue. William exhibited symptoms of what we now call ADD or ‘Attention Deficit Disorder.’ He was destructive, violent, and anti-social. William was written off as a bully and a malcontent by fellow pupils, and teachers. No positive or constructive action was initiated by any person in authority to analyze or improve his behavior and condition. Sometimes he would masturbate in class, he made lewd sexual comments to teachers and school staff, intimidated other kids, indulged in sado-masochistic rituals (cutting himself with knives, or sticking pins into his genitals), violently attacking students without provocation or reason, obsessed with corpses and death, habitually stealing and a frequent truant. At the age of fifteen he was attending an English language class and disrupting the class as usual. Mr Pink, the teacher asked William to leave immediately and report to the headmaster. William did leave, but instead of reporting to the school office he went to the restroom and removed a chain, then went back to the English class and proceeded to attack Mr. Pink with the rudimentary weapon. William then ran out and went home. Once there, he swallowed an entire bottle of barbiturates with several glasses of vodka, sat down on the couch beside his sister and died. William’s father, who was equally unstable, arrived at the school next day with a shotgun, with the sole intention of shooting Mr. Pink. Fortunately the police arrived in time to arrest him and prevent any further disturbances. I am 42 years old now and I have reflected on this episode many times, trying to make sense of it. I had the good fortune to study a program of medicinal nutrition which enlightened me greatly and I found myself slowly beginning to understand the hidden complexities of this tragedy. William and his family lived in a house built before the 1920’s with lead plumbing and pipes intact. I thought of a low class boy with nutritional deficiencies, living in sub-standard housing… a pattern formed in my mind… combined with all the possible disadvantages here was a child poisoned and made insane by drinking water that was heavily contaminated with lead.”

This study paper is an assessment of the importance of, and the role that water plays in everyday life. Why water is such an important issue, locally, nationally and internationally. I will focus on three key areas; water as a nutrient, a physiological and psychological necessity for stable life, the ecological and environmental status and the importance of water with regard to issues of contamination through pollution and its effects.

Water as a key nutrient and its physiological importance.

Water or H20 is an essential nutrient to the maintenance, development, growth and normal functioning of human and all biological life forms. It is second only to the necessity of oxygen. Water is a scientifically inorganic compound and the most abundant in the human body, comprising nearly 2/3 of the total body weight. The total liquid content of the human body is approximately 40-40 Liters. Water is the medium or solvent in which most bodily processes take place, inside and outside of cells. A solvent is a substance in which most compounds are dissolved. When water is the solvent for a mixture (a blend of two or more molecules) the mix is often called an ‘aqueous solution’ which contains sodium chloride or NaC1 and other molecules, which together form the ‘internal ocean’ of the body. Adults can survive many weeks without food, but only a few days in the absence of water. Fortunately, for those that do not drink the required standard per day many food types contain water which in a small part compensates for what is lacking in consumption. For example, 100 g of raw beef contains approximately 60-70 g of water. The kidneys are responsible for maintaining and regulating the water content of the body. An excessive loss of water can occur through vomiting, diarrhea and heavy sweating through exercise, a hot climate or high fever. If water intake is not increased in these conditions then dehydration will occur. A temperate climate requires an approximate liquid intake of 1 liter or 2 pints per day.

The Ecological, Environmental and Global Status of Water.

70% of the earths surface is covered by water; this represents 1.4 billion cubic kilometers or 335 million cubic miles. This is enough water to submerge the entire United States to a depth of 150 kilometers or 93 miles. 97% of this is sea-water or 370 billion billion gallons. Only 1% of the earths waters are fresh and available for drinking, 2-3% is contained in glaciers and ice caps. So, it can be easily understood that at least 35% of inhabited lands on earth are threatened from lack of fresh, drinkable water;

Humans already use approximately 54% of all accessible, usable, or renewable water. This is expected to rise to 70% by the year 2025. (Postel, Daily and Ehrlich, 1996. ‘Human appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water.’ Science 271: 785-788)

Not only is water indispensable for human life it is also used in agriculture (raising crops for food, to maintain livestock) as an essential part of aquatic life from which we also derive valuable sources of protein as fish, and as part of the general production and maintenance of our modern lifestyles, with regard to cleaning, sanitation and hygiene. Drinking water is therefore a valuable commodity. Population growth increases demand and when the quality of water is compromised by pollutants, the overall issues become very serious indeed;

If the worlds water supply is compared to one gallon (3.8 liters), freshwater would make up for 4 oz (118 milliliters) or 3%, and readily accessible freshwater, which is for immediate use would come to a total of 2 drops. (Miller, G.T. 1998. Living in the environment, 10th edition, Wadsworth Publishers, California.)

Today at least 400 million people live in regions with severe water shortages. By the year 2050 it will be 4.000 million. (Hinrichsen, D. B. Robey, and U. D. Upadhay. 1998. “Solutions for a water-short world.”
Population reports, Series M, No 14, John Hopkins University School of Public Health, Population Information Program, Baltimore, Maryland.)

Environmental Concerns and Water Pollutants.

The quality of drinking water is now a very serious concern. The main causes of water degradation are:

1. Population growth and consumption.
2. Infrastructure development, which included the construction of dams, dikes and diversions which disturb the ecosystem.
3. Land conversion, the appropriation of water-land for human habitation or the destruction of wet-lands.
4. The uncontrolled release of pollutants into the environment, including human waste, agricultural and industrial waste and the byproducts of chemical processes.


In this paper I am mainly concerned with the degradation of the water supply. Metals used in industrial processes such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and manganese are discharged into the atmosphere or more seriously into water sources. In agriculture, organophosphates, fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and other noxious substances are polluting the environment and drinking water supplies through run-off or infiltration. Other contaminants are dioxins, PCB’s, paints, glues and adhesives, gasoline and cleaning solutions are all pollutants and by-products of our technological and industrial age. It is estimated that 2 million tons of human waste are discharged into water courses every day.

The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program of the U.S. Geographical Survey performed a major survey of 139 streams in 30 states of the U.S. between 1999 and 2000. They identified 95 different chemical substances with residential and industrial sources; both human and vetinary drugs including antibiotics, hormones, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, fire retardants, insecticides, antioxidants, chemicals included; coprostanal (a fecal steroid), cholesterol (a plant and animal steroid), N-N-diethyltoluamide (insect repellant), caffeine (stimulant), triclosan (anti-microbial disinfectant), tri (2-choroethyl), phosphate (fire retardant), 4-nonlphenol (nonionic detergent metabolite), common steroids and non-prescription drugs. The final analysis of this report states that little is known of the potential human and environmental health effects of the 95 chemicals. Even less is known of the possible interactions occurring when these varied chemicals are mixed together.

Consumption and the Known Effects of Water Pollution.

In 1998 the Clean Water Action Group Alliance of Massachusetts formed a partnership with the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility Group. Together they investigated the possible effects of toxic substances in the environment, particularly on the neurological development in children. This was prompted by the increasing numbers of children displaying symptoms of neurosis and brain disorders. The resulting paper was published as ‘In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development.’ The paper identified
Key chemical contaminants in the air, in water and food which contribute to hyperactivity, ADD, lower IQ levels, and motor skill impairment. The specific toxic chemicals and heavy metals identified as dangerous were; lead, cadmium, manganese, organophosphates, dioxins, PCB’s and solvents. The report concluded that 80% of all Americans have shown physical evidence of one or more harmful pesticides in their bodies. In other medical trials, hair mineral analyses of children with ADHD showed high levels of metals such as mercury, cadmium, manganese and copper, thus implicating a direct link between children’s capacity for learning and developmental disorders. Approximately 3-4% of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Case Study:

Arnold was an eight year old boy who was a bit of a tear-away at school. He came from a broken home and tended to be disruptive socially. One day at break time there was a panic in the playground when Arnold tried to hang himself with his tie, by attaching it to the climbing frame. His father was called and he was taken home. The following day we arranged a mineral screen. It was found that lead in his body was twice the normal upper acceptable level, and that his body zinc was one third below the lower limit of normal.

“It is now recognized that children who are heavily exposed to lead from car exhausts or pollution often suffer from learning and/or behavioral problems. Some hyperactive children that undergo treatment to remove lead from their bodies improve eventually.”

Dr. Stephen Davies. Nutritional Medicine. P 376. London 1987

Similar disturbances can arise in adults because of the same reasons;

“Today we live in a state of environmental pollution. There are over 100,000 chemicals in the environment that we ingest through what we eat, drink and breathe. Contaminants in the soil, water, air and food supply. The toxins in time penetrate and leak through the blood brain barrier and enter the brain tissue. This process happens with several heavy toxic metals such as lead, copper and aluminum. These chemicals and heavy metals by affecting brain chemistry, affect the mind and behavior, and they must be removed.”

Dr. Philip Hodes (on schitzophrenia) http://www.garynull.com

“Many of the people that have developed so called ‘mental illness’ are suffering from things like mercury, lead, copper, aluminum and iron poisoning. These toxic metals affect one’s thinking and behavior. People can develop bizarre behavior and distorted thinking, along with warped perceptions, as a result of these toxic heavy metals. Add to this toxic stew all the insecticides, pesticides and herbicides that we ingest daily.”Dr. Hal Huggins. NY Times, (Science) April 27th 1993.


A report by The Friends of the Earth shows that 50 tons of mercury is being discharged into the environment every year. Mercury is a deadly poison which damages the brain and developing fetuses; the National Academy of Sciences confirms this, that exposure to mercury can cause severe health impacts such as learning disabilities in children and growth in fetuses. The NAS has extensive data on the effects of mercury on the brain and its development. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) biochemist, Kathryn Mahaffey in a January 2004 forum estimated that the number of children at risk of developing problems from mercury pollution has doubled, that one in six women has enough mercury in her system to potentially harm the development of any fetuses she might conceive. 630.000 babies are born each year with dangerous levels of mercury in their blood. Now 45 states warn against eating fish from rivers, streams and lakes because of mercury contamination. This represents a 63% increase from 1994, when only 27 states issued warnings.


A report by researchers at the University of Iowa found that herbicide pollution of the municipal water supply was affecting the normal growth of fetuses. The study covered several communities with herbicide polluted rivers and water sources, and discovered that infants of mothers in those communities had a higher risk of IUGR or intra-uterine growth retardation, a condition in which the weight of the baby is lower than that of children the same gestational age. The condition is associated with apnea, brachycardia, respiratory distress, hypocalcemia, sepsis, celebral palsy and overall impaired development. The herbicide atrazine was identified and the mean level calculated at 2.2 micrograms per liter. The current maximum concentration permitted for atrazine is 3 micrograms per liter.

Legislation and Pollution Prevention.

The history and development of water pollution preventing legislation;

1899 – The Rivers and Harbors Act.
1948 – The Water Pollution Control Act.
1956 – Amendments to The Water Pollution Control Act.
1965 – The Water Quality Act.
1972 – The Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
1977 – The Clean Water Act.
!987 – The Water Quality Act.

Whilst drinking water in Western Europe, the United States and Canada is of an infinitely higher standard than the rest of the world, still too little is done on the part of environmental government agencies to create, maintain or improve the current standard. And, as I have discussed the current standard is unacceptable and dangerous. In 1998 water bodies in the United States were assessed and 40% were found to be unfit for recreational use because of nutrient, metal and agricultural pollutants.

The U.N. World Water Development Report.

Obviously the various acts introduced to protect our supplies of drinking water are not effective. The evidence already forwarded points to this; medical, environmental and technological research into the effects of water pollution point toward the damage done to human life, why?

The EPA currently tests for only 80 contaminants, when the U.S. water supply contains approximately 1000 differing chemicals or pollutants. With regard to mercury pollution the EPA has said it would require companies to reduce emissions by 90% in 4 years. The Bush administration proposed instead a more relaxed standard. In January 2004 the EPA proposed a rule that would only require a cut in mercury emissions by 70% over 14 years.

The Bush administration has received millions of dollars in campaign funds from electricity utility and energy companies; in 2000 – 2004 the Republicans received $1.4 million in PAC. More than 70% of the electricity companies $8.4 million contributions fund for the 2000 – 2004 cycle amounted to $5.6 million.

Therefore, the Bush administration’s stance on pollution reflects the primary opposition of energy companies to tighter pollution control. The Bush administration defines the role and effect of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Clean Water Action.

The primary role of the Clean Water Act (1977) is to prevent the dumping of pollutants into water sources. The CWA includes a program to address indirect sources of pollution called TMDL (total maximum daily loads). The Bush Administration, under pressure from industry is being persuaded to‘re-write’ the TDML program, which would substantially weaken the act.

Clean Water Action is an active organization which represents citizens concerns, working for a clean and fresh water supply, campaigning against widespread pollution and lobbying on a political level to ensure safeguards against water contamination are continued.

Personal Advice and Action.

Join a local Clean Water Action or environmental group and campaign for a cleaner and better environment for you and you family. From their you can get advice, support and information on your own water supply, political action, and further links on improving the environment and water throughout the U.S. The website address is:


There are many varied changes that you can initiate to improve your health and avoid the possibly dangerous side-effects of polluted waters. And in doing so you will also be a pro-active supporter of the environment. Here are some general tips:

1) Contact your local water authority to find out exactly what is in your drinking supply. These authorities are required by Federal law to analyze and publish their findings.

2) Always run water from the faucet for a minute in the morning before using it. This procedure is known to flush out any build-up of toxic metals that have accumulated in the pipes overnight.

3) Do drink at least 2 pints of water a day for maximum benefit, this may vary according to your climatic conditions, so consult your doctor or dietician for precise advice. Also try to use a reliable brand of bottled mineral water and/or charcoal filtered water as your main drinking supply.

4) If you child is exhibiting symptoms of ADD/ADHD, or other unexplained erratic behavior consider a hair-mineral analysis: consult your doctor and/or dietician for more information.

5) Adopt a natural healthy lifestyle; eat more fresh/organic foods, investigate natural medicines and herbs rather than synthetic ones (whose residues eventually end up in the water system), practice natural forms of contraception, and seriously consider the topic of over-population when planning a family.

6) Use environmentally friendly cleaning and home products.

For more advice and information on home safety with respect to water and the environment, go to ‘Safe-Home’ a leading website which provides a more detailed guide to ensuring you and your family can work and protect yourselves and the environment safely and effectively:


Inspiration: The ‘Essence’ of Water…

The sage’s way, TAO is the way of water.

There must be water for life to be,
It can flow wherever.

And water, being true to being water is true

Those in the way of TAO, like water
Need to accept where they find themselves;
And that may often be places where the water goes
To the lowest places, and that is right.

Like a lake
The heart must be calm and quiet
Having great depth beneath it.

The sage rules with compassion,
And his words need to be trusted.

The sage needs to know like water;
How to flow around blocks
And how to find the way through without violence.

Like water, the sage should wait
For the moment to ripen and be right:

It flows around

Without harm.

(From the ‘Tao Te Ching, chapter 8)


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Anonymous said...

Everyone has their favorite way of using the internet. Many of us search to find what we want, click in to a specific website, read what’s available and click out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s efficient. We learn to tune out things we don’t need and go straight for what’s essential.