– Toilet on tap: Panel recommends Americans drink more waste water to combat future shortages (Daily Mail, Jan. 11, 2012):
Next time you pour a glass of water from the tap try not to think about this – you might be about to drink what you once flushed away.
Rising numbers of Americans are consuming wastewater, or ‘toilet on tap’, without even realising it, according to an official report.
Even though it once contained human waste, food scraps and bath scum, the National Research Council claims that it could actually be better for you than fresh water.
It also says says that only wastewater that has been treated gets back into circulation, although the last industry-wide study was done was back in 1980.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, wastewater is nothing more than ‘used water’.
It includes substances such as oils, soaps and chemicals and comes from sinks, bathtubs, toilets, washing machines and dishwashers.
Businesses and industries also contribute their share of used water that must be cleaned.
Wastewater is sent to a treatment plant where large material is filtered out before it is oxygenated to make it safe for human consumption.
The NRC looked at water drawn from a normal source that had five per cent wastewater and compared it to a sample which had been completely treated.
By examining 24 different potential contaminants and a number of pathogens, they found no difference in risk between the two.
In fact, when it came to the pathogens, the fully wastewater sample had fewer.
The announcement from the NRC is a change from its stance in 1998 when a paper said that reclaimed water should only be used for drinking as ‘an option of last resort’.
Jörg Drewes, an engineering professor at the Colorado School of Mines who contributed to the report said that wastewater was now a ‘viable option’
He said: ‘This can be done reliably without putting the public at risk.
‘We can really say that there is no difference from the risk standpoint. You can have a supply that is as safe as the current drinking water supplies.
‘Wastewater is a drought-proof supply. People are always generating wastewater.
‘That can be a very viable option, the committee felt, compared to imported water and other options.’
Water scarcity is growing problem in the U.S. especially in arid states like California and Arizona.
Contributing to the problem is the amount we waste – less than 10 per cent of drinkable water is used for cooking, drinking, showering or washing dishes.
Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at the non-profit Environmental Working Group, said: ‘We flush it down the toilet, literally…we have to do something’.
In the instances where wastewater has been put back into the system, voters have sometimes reacted badly and rejected it.
Water reuse projects also tend to be more expensive than most water conservation options, although they are cheaper than seawater desalination.
In Arizona a case is currently ongoing in the Federal Court over the use of reclaimed water to make snow at a ski resort.
Until it is resolved the U.S Forest Service in Flagstaff has put up a sign telling people not to eat the snow, even though it is considered safe for skiing.