EarthTalk: Bottled water companies would have
us all believe that tap water is unsafe to drink. But I’ve
heard that most tap water is actually pretty safe. Is this
-- Sam Tsiryulnikov, Los Angeles, CA
water is not without its problems. The nonprofit Environmental
Working Group (EWG) in 2005 tested municipal water in 42
states and detected some 260 contaminants in public water
supplies, 140 of which were unregulated chemicals, that
is, chemicals for which public health officials have no
safety standards for, much less methods for removing them.
did find over 90 percent compliance on the part of water
utilities in applying and enforcing standards that exist,
but faults the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
for failing to establish standards on so many of the contaminants—from
industry, agriculture and urban runoff—that do end
up in our water.
these seemingly alarming stats, the Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC), which has also conducted extensive municipal
as well as bottled water tests, says: “In the short
term, if you are an adult with no special health conditions,
and you are not pregnant, then you can drink most cities’
tap water without having to worry.” This is because
most of the contaminants in public water supplies exist
at such small concentrations that very large quantities
would need to be ingested for health problems to occur.
does caution, however, that pregnant women, young children,
the elderly, people with chronic illnesses and those with
weakened immune systems can be especially vulnerable to
the risks posed by contaminated water.” The group
suggests that anyone at risk obtain a copy of their city’s
annual water quality report (they are mandated by law) and
review it with their physician.
for bottled water, it is first important to know that 25
to 30 percent of it comes straight from municipal tap water
systems, despite the pretty nature scenes on the bottles
that imply otherwise. Some of that water goes through additional
filtering, but some does not. NRDC has researched bottled
water extensively and has found that it is “subject
to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those
which apply to city tap water.” Bottled water is required
to be tested less frequently than tap water for bacteria
and chemical contaminants, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration
bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli
or fecal coliform, contrary to EPA tap water rules which
prohibit any such contamination.
NRDC found that there are no requirements for bottled water
to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium
or giardia, unlike more stringent EPA rules regulating tap
water. This leaves open the possibility, says NRDC, that
some bottled water may present similar health threats to
those with weakened immune systems, the elderly and others
they caution about drinking tap water.
The bottom line is that we have invested considerably in
highly-efficient municipal water delivery systems that bring
this precious liquid straight to our kitchen faucets anytime
we need it. Instead of taking that for granted and relying
on bottled water instead, we need to make sure our tap water
is clean and safe for all.
Working Group, EPA
Local Drinking Water Information, NRDC.
EarthTalk: What alternatives are there to traditional
fertilizers and other chemicals typically used on golf courses?
What other actions can be taken to make golf courses kinder
to the environment? --Kathy McGuire, PGA National Resort,
Palm Beach Gardens, FL
courses are large areas of open space, certainly more desirable
ecologically than equivalent amounts of paved highway or
polluting industrial operations, they are less “green”
than they appear. Golf maintenance operations use significant
amounts of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides (more, acre-for-acre
than farms in some cases), which can contaminate nearby
lakes and streams as well as local groundwater.
A typical golf
course uses about a half ton of chemical pesticides each
year, at least some of which runs off into nearby groundwater
sources. With nearly 20,000 courses now in operation across
the United States and Canada, such problems affect just
about every community from coast-to-coast. Luckily several
institutions and organizations have been working to minimize
the environmental impacts of golf courses.
researchers at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
(RPI), there are many ways to create and maintain golf courses
that remain attractive to golfers without excessive use
of toxic chemicals. Examples include: selecting turf grasses
that match local environmental conditions so as to reduce
susceptibility to pests; mowing less often as longer grass
increases natural pest resistance; using slow-release and
natural organic fertilizers; taking into account pest forecasts
to be better prepared for potential infestations; and introducing
the natural enemies of problem pests and natural bacteria-based
and tips are available for free via the website of the Environmental
Institute for Golf, which publishes an informative series
of best management practices for golf course managers looking
to improve their facilities’ eco-footprint. Some tips
include: planting vegetative buffers around golf course
water bodies to prevent the transmission of fertilizers
and pesticides into the water; leaving grass clippings and
leaves on the ground where possible to serve as natural
compost in low-maintenance areas; and timing the application
of fertilizer to minimize loss from rainfall and maximize
uptake by grasses.
One of the nation’s
leaders in green golf course management is San Francisco’s
Harding Park, where course managers eschew conventional
pesticides and fertilizers in favor of microbes to kill
pests and soap to get rid of weeds. They also hand-pluck
weeds, flush out moles with hoses, use traps to catch harmful
insects, and choose native plants wherever possible. Beneficial
insects such as ground beetles, ladybugs, fireflies, praying
mantis, spiders and wasps help keep harmful insects at bay
and also pollinate plants and decompose organic matter that
serves as natural fertilizer. These and other alternative
management methods make the course one of the greenest stops
on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour.
The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) is also taking steps. EPA’s
Wetlands Division consulted with several leading nonprofits
and golf institutions on the creation of a booklet, “The
Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United
States,” outlining the environmental responsibilities
of golf courses. It is posted at the website of the United
States Golf Association (USGA).
Institute for Golf, Environmental
Principles for Golf Courses in the United States.