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Science Wednesday: Why Research Matters at Breakfast Time

2012 March 21

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Tarlie Townsend

I cover breakfast cereal halfway with unsweetened almond milk, then add an ice cube and fill the bowl the rest of the way with cold water.

My flat mates think it’s pretty odd. What doesn’t strike them as odd, though, is that I consume water from the tap. Why would it? These days we can be confident that, when we turn on the tap, clear, potable water will flow out.

But maybe that shouldn’t be such a given. It’s not like we create pure water by combining two hydrogens and an oxygen in some giant combustion chamber. No, the water I put on my cereal has made it through the earth’s complex recycling system, and may have spent time on land, in the ocean, and in the air—so it’s actually pretty impressive that it comes out so clean.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Years ago, rivers and streams—common sources of drinking water—were also dumping grounds for human and industrial waste. Sure, people knew polluted water was unsafe to consume, but the details weren’t well understood. Before water could be clean enough to pour on my cereal, and before environmental laws (such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act) could be created to keep it that way, scientists had to tackle several important questions:

  1. What about polluted water makes it unsafe? What are its biological, chemical, and physical properties?
  2. How do we detect and measure a given pollutant?
  3. How much can be in the water without creating health concerns?
  4. How do we remove pollutants to actually get the water clean?

These were big questions, and answering them required several decades and the development of innovative technologies and analytical methods. I’m certainly grateful: without EPA research, I might have to eat my cereal with unsweetened almond milk!

Of course, continued research is necessary to keep up with our changing society. EPA researchers play a big role in this, working to update water infrastructure for the growing population, to protect our drinking water from terrorist threats, combat nutrient pollution and, ultimately, ensure the availability of safe and sustainable water resources for future generations.

About the Author: Tarlie Townsend is a communications intern in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She’s also a senior at Indiana University, and would point out that, while almond milk is great in cereal, cow’s milk is really the superior coffee ingredient.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    March 21, 2012

    After Oil, Then Water Next !

    All species Need water, including the planets. In our minds, future, it will happen the conflicts among all of these to fight for it. Negotiations could cold after The Queen wishes gentlemen agreement on living together. Today, signs to us that to live is difficult more than we know. Please, love our own, especially The Water…..

  2. Lynn Adams permalink
    March 21, 2012

    Although our water supply is free from harmful microorganisms, I still don’t drink tap water due to the chemicals added (chlorine – I can smell it), and the other unknowns such as chromium VI, industrial pollutants, pharmaceuticals etc. I applaud the efforts taken so far to supply the USA with clean water, but we obviously need to do more to ensure “clean” truly translates to “safe”.

  3. Steven Van Ginkel permalink
    March 21, 2012

    I worked at the EPA as well, in Cincinnati. I think the most important thing today is water reuse and rainwater harvesting to keep our freshwater ecosystems in place. Here in Atlanta, our sewer bills are automatically 3X are water bills, but if we use rainwater, it’s free! I know this is a bit sly, but we need to consider decentralized water and wastewater treatment in the future. Energy will be too costly to maintain our current centralized systems. We won’t totally do replace centralized systems, but I think decentralized systems need to increase in number.

    Thanks,
    Steve

  4. kiyohisa tanada permalink
    March 22, 2012

    The water is mysterious.
    The water is included in the air.
    By a temperature change, the water performs “dew condensation”.
    Water is provided here.
    In addition,
    When temperature is low,
    When water evaporates,
    A temperature decline happens.
    The water is really mysterious.

  5. April 17, 2012

    Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about Science Wednesday: Why Research Matters at Breakfast Time | It's Our Environment .

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