charles-fishman

Not one of the 35 largest cities in India has water service more than an hour or two a day–including the name-brand cities we’ve all heard of: Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi. Many visitors to India never realize this, because hotels, offices, and upper-class homes have pumps and tanks that provide fake 24-hour service–the moment water pressure comes on, the pumps pull as much water into the tanks as possible. The result is a kind of illusory water service for a small slice of the population, and an undermining of efforts to improve overall municipal water service.

Almost half of Indians don’t have access to clean, safe reliable water–540 million people in just a single country. And one in six Indians relies on water that has to be carried home by foot–a time-consuming chore almost always handled by women and girls.

When you tote that 24-pack of half-liter water bottles home from the supermarket next time, try balancing it on your head, like many Indians do. That’s 26 pounds of water–just three gallons. Enough for one U.S. toilet flush.

The Big Thirst: The High Cost of Bad Water

In Philadelphia, there are 3,300 miles of water mains in the city and they replace 20 miles a year. They’re on 160-year replacement cycles. One of the officials from the Philadelphia water utility said to me ‘We want to make sure we get the 20 miles right.’ That’s not a question of money, it’s a question of public resistance to digging up streets.’
—  Charles Fishman on the antiquated municipal water systems in the United States. 
The Dangerously Clean Water. By Charles Fishman

The ultra-pure water used to clean semiconductors and make microchips would suck vital minerals right out of your body. Plus it tastes really nasty.

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FACT: Water can be too clean to drink–so clean that it’s actually not safe to drink.

That’s the kind of claim about water that people scoff at–it seems ridiculous on the face of it.

Water too clean to drink?

Give me a break. It’s water. Cleaner is better.

But this is one wild water story that’s true.

Every day, around the world, tens of millions of gallons of the cleanest water possible are created, water so clean that it is regarded as an industrial solvent, absolutely central to high-tech manufacturing but not safe for human consumption.

The clean water–it’s called ultra-pure water (UPW)–is a central part of making semiconductors, the wafers from which computer microchips are cut for everything from MRI scanners to greeting cards.

Chips and their pathways are built up in layers, and between manufacturing steps, they need to be washed clean of the solvents and debris from the layer just completed.

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But the electronic pathways on microchips are now so fine they can’t be seen even with ordinary microscopes. The pathways are narrower than the wavelengths of visible light. They can only be seen with electron microscopes. And so even the absolute tiniest of debris can be like a boulder on a semiconductor–so the chips have to be washed, but with water that is itself absolutely clean.

The water must have nothing in it except water molecules–not only no specks of dirt or random ions, no salts or minerals, it can’t have any particles of any kind, not even minuscule parts of cells or viruses.

And so every microchip factory has a smaller factory inside that manufactures ultra-pure water. The ordinary person thinks of reverse-osmosis as taking “everything” out of water. RO is the process you use to turn ocean water into crystalline drinking water. And in human terms, RO does take most everything out of the water.

But for semiconductors, RO water isn’t even close. Ultra-pure water requires 12 filtration steps beyond RO. (For those of a technical bent, the final filter in making UPW has pores that are 20 nanometers wide. At the IBM semiconductor plant I visited, they send the 20 nm filters out to be inspected by a private company, using a scanning electron microscope. They want that company to find filters with nothing in them.)

Just the one IBM microchip plant in Burlington, Vermont, makes 2 million gallons of UPW a day for use in manufacturing semiconductors, and there are dozens of chip plants around the world. UPW is also used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but it is a purely human form of water–water that is literally nothing like the stuff that exists naturally on Earth.

Water is a good cleaner because it is a good solvent–the so-called “universal solvent,” excellent at dissolving all kinds of things. UPW is particularly “hungry,” in solvent terms, because it starts so clean. That’s why it is so valuable for washing semiconductors.

It’s also why it’s not safe to drink. A single glass of UPW wouldn’t hurt you. But even that one glass of water would instantly start leeching valuable minerals back out of your body.

At the chip plants, the staff comes to regard UPW as just another part of a high-tech manufacturing process. One senior IBM official was stunned when I asked her what UPW tasted like. Despite presiding for years over the water purification process, she not only had never tasted it, it has never even occurred to her to taste it. One of her deputies had, though, and he piped right up. “I stuck my tongue in it,” he said. “It was horrid.”

In fact, super-clean water tastes flat, heavy, and bitter. The opposite of what we like. The appealing freshness in water comes not just from it’s temperature and its appearance, but from a sprinkling of salts and minerals that give it a crisp taste.

So there it is: Not only is it possible for water to be too clean to drink–it’s exactly that kind of water that makes your iPhone possible.

Adapted from The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, to be published in April by Free Press / Simon & Schuster. © 2011, Charles Fishman.

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In a visit to The Lavin Agency’s Toronto office, The Big Thirst author Charles Fishman talks about how, a few years ago, Atlanta came within just eight days of running out of water. The situation revealed a lot about America’s blasé—and dangerous—attitude toward our most precious natural resource.

Would you believe that highly purified water is like acid to your body? Of all the crazy things I have heard about water, this tops my list as the most insane:

FACT: Water can be too clean to drink–so clean that it’s actually not safe to drink.

That’s the kind of claim about water that people scoff at–it seems ridiculous on the face of it.

Water too clean to drink?

Give me a break. It’s water. Cleaner is better.

But this is one wild water story that’s true.

Every day, around the world, tens of millions of gallons of the cleanest water possible are created, water so clean that it is regarded as an industrial solvent, absolutely central to high-tech manufacturing but not safe for human consumption.

The clean water–it’s called ultra-pure water (UPW)–is a central part of making semiconductors, the wafers from which computer microchips are cut for everything from MRI scanners to greeting cards.

Once again our resident waterologist, Charles Fishman continues to blow minds and spread the word about The Dangerously Clean Water Used To Make Your iPhone.

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Water is History

Jamie F Simpson 2013

This work consists of 24 aged containers of water and a list of historical people and animals with details of the water being connected to them in fluids. They were found in the river Eden and some have been there for 5 years and some for 50 years all with a constant supply of water running through them.

The human body contains on average 65% water (Helmenstine, 2013) which is being constantly replaced every time we eat or drink, this water comes out as urine, sweat, semen, rheum, saliva etc. the water that we drink has been filtered and processed so that is it suitable for human consumption, therefore all water has a memory.  

All the water on earth was formed in space, in interstellar gas clouds. It was delivered here when the earth was formed or shortly thereafter, in exactly the form it is in. So, all the water on earth… is 4.3 or 4.4 billion years old. No water is being created on earth; no water is being destroyed on earth… …Every drink of water you take, every pot of coffee you make is dinosaur pee because it’s all been through the kidneys of a Tyrannosaurus Rex… many times. Because all the water we have is all the water we have ever had… (Charles Fishman, 2011)

fastcompany.com
Scientists Discover The Oldest, Largest Body Of Water In Existence - In Space

Equally stunning is the age of the water factory. The two teams of astrophysicists that found the quasar were looking out in space a distance of 12 billion light years. That means they were also looking back in time 12 billion years, to when the universe itself was just 1.6 billion years old. They were watching water being formed at the very start of the known universe, which is to say, water was one of the first substances formed, created in galactic volumes from the earliest time. Given water’s creative power to shape geology, climate and biology, that’s dramatic.

And it’s not as if this intergalactic water can be of any use to us here on Earth, of course, at least not in the immediate sense. Indeed, the discovery comes as a devastating drought across eastern Africa is endangering the lives of 10 million people in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. NASA’s water discovery should be a reminder that if we have the sophistication to discover galaxies full of water 12 billion light years away, we should be able to save people just an ocean away from drought-induced starvation.

Fact: We hear all the time that “only” 2% of the water on Earth is fresh and available for human use–only 1% if you exclude glaciers and polar ice caps. It’s true, it’s just not very meaningful, and it’s misleading.

About 97% of the water on the surface of the Earth is in the oceans. But the oceans aren’t a static pool of unusable water–they are a vast desalination system, making water for human use every second of every day.

The ocean and the atmosphere, with the help of the sun, are moving around volumes of water that are truly stupendous–measured in a standard unit rarely heard outside the world of geology and atmospheric science: the cubic kilometer.

That “only 1%” figure is designed to galvanize us. But if it ever struck people as dramatic, it’s lost it’s power. As well it should.

Charles Fishman continues to unpack staggering water facts in his Fast Company series, The Big Thirst based on his upcoming book of the same name.

Bottled water is a rip-off only because we're willing to pay for it.

Or at least too lazy to resist the temptation to buy it!

Listen to this report and read about why we pay billions of dollars a year for bottled water. 

I think bottled water actually represents a kind of caricature of… the global economy… It provides people in the developed world with 20 or 30 varieties of something for which there is no actual variety.” - Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst