Cocaine in our tap water isn't the real story

Scares are difficult to strain from the current of public discourse

Share

It may reveal nothing to the eye, but each glass of tap water tells, on a molecular level, a remarkable story. Compounds of H20 will have spent time in the North Sea, or suspended above the Pennines. Other, rarer particles have less salubrious beginnings.

Take benzoylecgonine. This substance – found in recent tests by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) – began life as a line of cocaine. Somewhere, one of Britain’s 700,000 users snorts the drug, perhaps off a toilet seat. Temporarily, they jig. Then, after their body has broken down the alkaloid, and the high departed, they return to the toilet – this time to urinate. Filters, however, fail to expunge the benzoylecgonine from their urine, and so it arrives – the invisible legacy of a misdemeanour – in your still, silent glass.

The quantities are vanishingly small, well below the level needed to have any noticeable effect on the drinker. And because traces were found at only four sites by the DWI, it is not as if turning a tap to the left connects one directly to Colombia’s drug cartels.

Nevertheless, as some citizens will smile at the tap today, others will approach it with a little more caution. Scares are difficult to strain from the current of public discourse. Internet chatrooms still rehearse the story that quantities of oestrogen – left behind by users of the Pill – have contaminated drinking water, and contributed to a rise in the number of men developing female breast tissue. This is demonstrably false. Britain’s tap water ranks among the safest in the world. It is checked 30,000 times a year for chemical and bacterial impurities. Confusion arises, in part, because the testes of male fish have been shown to shrink as a result of high oestrogen levels in sewage effluent. Terrible, no doubt, but not the same thing as your tap water-guzzling son developing an unwanted bosom.

There are two more important stories contained within a glass of water. The first is global, and UK-based drinkers can do little about it. Despite the World Health Organisation’s claim in 2012 that it had succeeded in halving the number of people worldwide without access to safe drinking water, no such progress has been made.

A WHO report admitted last month that its guidelines had simply encouraged governments to improve pipelines  – but not the water flowing through them. People receiving the same old trickle of dirty liquid, through a shining pipe, were mistakenly counted as having access to water as clean as London’s.

The second story is local, and easier to counteract. An estimated 30 per cent of water on sale in supermarkets globally comes from a tap, and only half of plastic bottles sold are recycled. That leaves the rest to fill up landfill sites, or bob about in the ocean. The enviornmentalists’ lament is so familiar it has lost some of its punch: nobody can live day-to-day with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch swirling in the back of their mind. Yet the mark-up between tap water and bottled is extraordinary, the equivalent of paying £1,500 for a pint. If you’re looking for a scare story in our water supply, there’s one to be found, but it’s got nothing to do with micro-traces of cocaine. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'