The Water You Drink
‘DRINKING WATER,’ once wrote Leonardo da Vinci, ‘can be health-giving, unwholesome, laxative, sulphurous, mournful, angry, red, yellow, green, black, blue, greasy, fat and thin.’
The water you drink today probably has few of these qualities. But even in our day about half a billion people are said to be constantly sick because of the water they drink. Ten million of them may die each year.
Surprisingly, even developed nations that take pride in their “safe” water are now having problems. Modern farming and industry are introducing a growing list of hard-to-remove and potentially hazardous chemicals into drinking-water sources. “It seems that everything that makes life easier makes water dirtier,” noted one U.S. expert at Senate hearings on the problem.
Life Depends on It
Despite these problems, water remains one of the most marvelous and absolutely essential substances known. The very existence of life itself on earth is based on it. In fact, water is the main ingredient of most living things. The human body has been described as a “virtual walking sack of precariously contained fluids.” About two thirds of your total weight is water, while as much as three fourths of your brain and muscles are.
From this it is obvious that life functions best within the narrow temperature range in which water exists as a liquid. Such an environment where life could exist is said to be practically nonexistent elsewhere in the universe. Though scientists speculate about possible millions of planets in the universe, the book Water: The Web of Life marvels:
“As we learn more about how unusual the conditions on earth really are . . . we wonder whether among even millions of planets we could find a duplicate of earth. . . . Apparently there is a very particular series of events that results in a planet with liquid water on its surface.”
What water does to sustain the life in your body illustrates what a remarkable substance it truly is.
Water at Work Within You
Blood is often equated with the very life of creatures, as in the term lifeblood. Appropriately, blood is over four fifths water. The unique qualities of water make it ideally suited as the basis of this life-giving fluid. For example, more substances dissolve in water than in any other liquid. It also has the unique ability to move freely back and forth through your body’s cell walls, carrying with it the chemicals of life. At the same time it serves as the medium in which complex chemical reactions take place within the cells.
These reactions “burn” as fuel the food you eat, generating heat, as an auto engine does when it burns fuel. But, then, how does your body keep its steady 98.6° temperature? Water! If the water in your body were another liquid—mercury, for example—heat from your cells would tend to raise your temperature over thirty times as fast as it does! This is because water requires far more heat to change its temperature than do most other substances.
But water serves in other ways, also, to control your body temperature. Rapid circulation by way of the bloodstream keeps heat relatively even all over, and quickly moves excess heat to your skin for radiating into the air. On the other hand, heat stored in your body’s water delivers welcome warmth to the extremities when you are cold.
Even with this remarkable system, your body usually does not quickly enough get rid of the heat that it generates. So another amazing property of water comes into play—evaporation. How does this help?
Well, when a pint of water evaporates, it soaks up about 1,100 times as much heat as when its temperature rises just one degree! You feel this cooling effect when a breeze dries moisture from your skin. Since about two pints of body water normally evaporate unnoticed each day through your skin and lungs by means of your breath, much excess heat is regularly released in this way.
But on a hot day, or as your activity picks up from normal levels, your sweat glands exude more water, possibly gallons in a day. Any perspiration that evaporates from the surface, rather than dripping off, carries with it immense amounts of heat—surely a marvelous cooling system!
Your Need for Water
Since water is so much a part of our very existence, we need to keep our bodies well supplied. Though a person may survive as much as eighty days without food, few can last longer than about ten days without water. With a very small drop from normal water content, you quickly feel thirsty. Even a 1- or 2-percent deficiency of water can be distressing or painful. Just 5 percent causes skin shrinkage, dried-out mouth and tongue, and hallucinations begin. A 15-percent loss is usually death-dealing.
Your body is constantly losing water. In addition to the two pints normally lost through the skin and breath, another three pints or more may be eliminated through your kidneys and bowels. Water lost by sweating, and even by tears, has to be added to the normal total of five or six pints that must be replaced each day to maintain your body’s fluid balance.
Does this mean that you have to drink three quarts of liquid every day? Not unless you are sweating heavily. Actually, about a third of the water you need comes from eating “solid” food, which is often mostly water. Even bread is about a third water. Interestingly, your own body cells manufacture nearly a pint of water (H2O) chemically as they use oxygen (O) to burn the hydrogen (H) in your food as fuel.
Thus you may need to drink only five or six glasses of liquids such as milk, coffee, juice or water directly each day. But even though water is among the most abundant substances on earth, supplying enough drinkable water is a major undertaking. Since it can dissolve so many different substances, water is not always safe to drink without purification.
Making Water Drinkable
Drinking water can seldom be called “pure” or “clean” in a chemical sense, because it almost always has some gases and minerals dissolved in it. Making water “potable” or safe to drink and pleasing to the taste does not require removal of all impurities. In fact, some of the elements necessary to good health and taste are often found naturally in good drinking water.
Fresh underground water obtained from springs and wells is often—but not always—safe to drink because of the filtering and purifying that takes place as it sinks through layers of soil and porous rock. Even fresh surface waters have self-purifying abilities. As it moves along, running water tends to break up wastes that enter, dissolving and diluting them to harmlessness, allowing the heavier particles to settle out. Wind and turbulence help aerate running water, causing it to release unwanted waste gases and absorb oxygen.
Dissolved oxygen is vital to an amazing step-by-step “digestion” process that occurs in both moving and still waters. The oxygen may directly oxidize or “burn” wastes, neutralizing them, or, more often, it supports bacteria that break down wastes to a harmless residue.
As the process continues, tiny life forms consume the bacteria, clearing the water further. Sunlight penetrates more easily, encouraging the growth of green algae, which, in turn, consume certain contaminating compounds and give off much oxygen in the process. Small water creatures feed on the algae, completing the “digestion” cycle. In this way fresh waters tend to purify themselves in time.
But even this marvelous system can suffer indigestion, as you do when you eat too much of the wrong things. Rainwater runoff from farmlands often contains chemical fertilizer and pesticide residues. New arrays of industrial wastes join them in our water sources, choking these with a variety and volume of chemicals often well beyond the capacity of nature’s purification system. As a result, self-purification, says Preventive Medicine and Public Health, has become “at best a half-truth and has in the past too often been used to justify acceptance of unsafe waters.” Now almost all communities in developed countries treat water in some way before using it.
In so doing, their methods often follow the lead of nature. Thus aeration is usually the first step of a typical purification system. Water is sprayed, cascaded or has air bubbled through it so as to absorb as much purifying oxygen as possible. Then certain chemicals are added that encourage impurities and bacteria to clump together in “flocs.” This coagulation process speeds up natural settling action, which is completed during sedimentation. Then comes filtration, usually through sand filters, to remove the remaining flocs and most other impurities. Finally, disinfection kills most remaining live organisms, usually by means of chlorine.
You would think that the foregoing process would be thorough enough to remove anything dangerous from the water you drink. But recent tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate that small amounts of numerous chemical compounds are getting through to the faucet in some cities. A few of these compounds are known to cause cancer. The irony of this is that several are said to be compounds of the very chlorine that is added to make the waters safe!
Some doctors even present evidence that chlorine may help to trigger the cholesterol buildup in human blood vessels that is said to cause heart attacks and strokes. Joseph M. Price, M.D., asserts in his book Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine that it is “one of the greatest paradoxes of recorded history” that a public health measure responsible for saving so many lives “should also unsuspectedly be responsible for many of the chronic disorders of later life.”
Though such conclusions are disputed, hundreds of cities in Europe, Russia, Canada and Japan prefer alternative methods to disinfect their water. Nice, France, for example, has used ozone instead of chlorine for over sixty years; Paris, since 1968. Ozone is an unstable form of oxygen that reacts in a chemical frenzy with water, oxidizing impurities quickly and leaving no ozone residue.
Others advocate activated carbon granules in place of, or in addition to, conventional sand in filters. Activated carbon has a unique chemical “stickiness” that “absorbs” impurities. A single pound is said to expose more than four million square feet of activated carbon surface for removing impurities. Now many U.S. environmentalists are exerting increasing pressure to force adoption of such alternatives.
Water as Medicine
Should citizens be subjected to mass medical treatment through their drinking water? That issue still rankles opponents of fluoridation, even though almost half of the U.S. population now drinks fluoridated water. Children who drink treated water reportedly have only half to a third as many dental cavities.
But opponents cite the fact that the majority of people do not benefit, since it admittedly helps only youngsters. Further, they argue, since some drink more water than others, they are bound to suffer greater exposure to any potential dangers, which allegedly include mongolism, cancer and shortened life. Though most medical authorities discount such charges, those who oppose fluoridation say that they should be free to choose.
Some people have fled to bottled water for safety. However, recent studies indicate that even some bottled waters cannot be assumed safe. One doctor, writing in the Medical World News annual Cardiovascular Review, suggests boiling your drinking water to drive off any free chlorine. But even boiling will not necessarily remove other harmful compounds.
A Balanced View
Thus it is wise to have a balanced view of the water we drink. What we can do to assure its purity is limited. The air we breathe is polluted enough to shorten life in some areas, but gas masks are impractical.
So rather than allowing such situations to distort our perspective on life, we should see in them proof that human systems fail when they do not work in harmony with earth’s marvelous natural systems. But, at the same time, we can be confident that the Designer of these natural systems will soon see to it that they operate in accord with his purpose, when he brings “to ruin those ruining the earth” and its waters.—Rev. 11:18.
Then earth’s waters will sustain life without ever causing pain, sickness or death. Appropriately, God’s provision of eternal life on earth at that time is pictured as a “river of water of life, clear as crystal.” “Let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—Rev. 21:1-5; 22:1, 17.