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Why the Run on Bottled Water in Boston?

For those of you who haven’t heard, people in the Boston area have been told to boil their tap water for a minute before drinking or cooking with it, because of a burst pipe leading from the reservoir. It’s certainly a bizarre situation for an urban area like this to be without potable water for days, but what’s even more bizarre is people’s reaction to it.


From the Boston Globe:

“The state ordered 2.5 million gallons of drinkable water and asked the federal government for help in securing additional supplies if necessary.”

“People flocked to convenience stores and groceries in search of bottled water, amid scattered reports of shortages.”

“Coakley set up a hotline for people to call in tips about alleged price gouging.”

Seriously? It’s not like there’s no water coming through. All people have to do is boil it. As long as they have a pot and a stove, they should be all set. So why the fuss over cases and cases of bottled water?

I don’t think it’s laziness, because it’s got to be more of a pain to make a special trip to the store and fight through crowds to pay more money for what comes directly your house for free (after taxes).

I think it’s a serious worry that the water coming out of the tap will make them sick. They’re thinking of their water as something akin to sewage, and if I imagine it like that, I can understand. But it’s mostly the same water they’re used to, with something like 3-5% pond water added. Pond water treated with chlorine. If you’ve ever gone swimming, you’ve probably ingested water worse than this. The precautions are there for the off chance that people might get sick from it, and they’re a good idea, but there’s no need to go overboard.

I’m worried that this will not only create a huge temporary demand for unnecessary bottled water, but make it a habit. I already know people who will never drink tap water, even if it’s filtered, because they’re convinced it’s unclean. That’s crazy. Our water system is generally good. It’s regularly tested, and reports are sent out to residents yearly. And if that’s not enough, you can just test it yourself, like I did. The test costs less than a three-pack of Brita replacement filters.

Now, all this is just me preaching at people, because I’m lucky—Cambridge’s water comes from a different reservoir than the rest of the Boston area. The only way I’ve been affected is that I had to fill up some bottles at home to bring into work. But it’s just been weird to see people’s reactions. Some people weren’t even using the water to wash their hands. After going to the bathroom. News flash: not washing your hands is going to make you sicker than drinking this water.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now. Good night.


Comment from Mallory
Time May 4, 2010 at 8:16 am

Talking about water, in one of my classes we talked for a long time how important water is and how water rights are being traded on the stock market. The professor very strongly believed that water is going to be the next big environmental issue in our lifetime. It already is in Poland, Maine.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time May 4, 2010 at 10:12 am

Yeah, isn’t Poland Spring lowering the water table around there? I guess people didn’t expect bottled water to take off so much, so they didn’t think they needed to set stringent limits beforehand.

Pingback from Friday Green Links – 5/7 « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time May 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

[…] Baby, Boil – Boston Globe. This basically says the same thing I did, but it’s nice to hear from another […]

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