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The Truth Cascades Upon The People

Updated on October 30, 2014

The Blue Death Review and Interview

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation ... even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci

A giant sleeps beneath every metropolis and every village throughout the land, mired within the depths of oblivion. Little thought is given to this decrepit behemoth unless, as befalls all stricken with old age and neglect, an artery becomes clogged or a capillary explodes, sending a freshet of its essence to the surface.

This unseen entity supplies us with our life source: Water. The miles and miles of arterial plumbing that connects us with our most basic need is, in most parts of the country, woefully in need of repair or, in a majority of circumstances, total replacement. When a bridge falls, action is immediate and swift. Yet, cracked and corroded cast-iron pipes snake under our feet without a second thought.

Dr. Robert D. Morris details this and other issues facing the world's water supply and the systems set in place that are meant to protect the populaces from disease and provide them with fresh drinking water. His new book, The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster and the Water We Drink, draws its title from the nickname given to cholera in the early eighteen hundreds. A predominate portion of the book details the plight and fight of Dr. John Snow to have cholera recognized as a waterborne pathogen. His struggle to prove that it was not caused miasma (a foul, vaporous air once universally believed to cause disease) was staunchly opposed by the medical community of the day, who held that most epidemics and disease were borne upon bad air.

I believe that Dr. Morris lingered on this specific topic and era for such an extended part of his book for several reasons. The first and foremost lies in the fact that this was the watershed moment (please excuse the pun) for medical advancements in how waterborne pathogens are transferred as well as giving birth to epidemiology, the study of epidemic diseases within a given populace. Another major point is the intractable position and posturing of the medical community, whose refusal to consider change lay somewhere in the childish wells of egotism, and also with the governmental bodies that always seem to find the path of least resistance lined with money. Juxtaposing the events of the eighteen hundreds against the adversarial manner in which these two assemblages hinder the progress of present-day affairs, it is easy to see the warnings issued by Dr. Morris.

The book moves seamlessly through the life's work of Snow, Pasteur and Hoch against the strangulating grip of cholera, moving on into early America and finally the modern day. The poetic quality of the writing gives such a rich texture that is surprising in what one would suspect to be a dry read. The details and attributes given to the time, place and players brings a life rarely seen in book of this type. Dr. Morris does not solely focus on disease and its spread through the world's water systems. He also details how the systems actually function and the sedentary comfort that the agencies foster that could ultimately lead to disaster. He brings to light studies that show that the very method used to keep the water safe from microorganisms (chlorinating) may be the casual effect for many cases of cancer. His book is a snapshot taken a moment before a cataclysmic impact. It is up to us all to change the course of this impending catastrophe.

I was recently able to interview Dr. Morris via e-mail, and I wanted to broach some of the subjects that were not covered in the book. Here is the transcription of our correspondence:

Q: A 1999 study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the presence of pharmaceuticals in effluent discharge, raw drinking water and finished drinking water. They discovered various pharmacological drugs as well as several different antibiotics in the finished drinking water. This revelation brings to the fore two distinct questions in my mind.

  1. 1. Has there been a definitive study to determine the absorption, immunity and/or mutation of waterborne pathogens?
  2. 2. Does the presence of antibiotics in the water create a double-edged sword, making the pathogens tolerant, if not immune, to antibodies as well as making us immune or semi-immune to antibiotics with the small quantities ingested?

Dr. Morris: These are critical questions. With respect to antibiotics, I am even more concerned about their presence in agricultural runoff and wastewater as the volume of antibiotics used is far greater than in humans. There is substantial evidence to indicate that the genes that confer antibiotic resistance are passed around relatively freely by microorganisms. The widespread presence of antibiotics as well as antibacterial agents in surface waters poses a serious risk of increased resistance to these compounds. The result will be their decreased effectiveness in treating human disease.

Q. I am curious about your opinion concerning the studies done by John Hopkins (and many other research groups) of the suspected relationship between aluminum and silica in the drinking water and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Morris: Although there is not conclusive evidence on this, water supplies with unusually high concentrations of aluminum should consider strategies for its removal.

Q. Is there any way, barring a catastrophic outbreak, to get people (especially politicians and the corporations) to be proactive in the immediate resolutions that need to take place before the whole water supply infrastructure becomes unsalvageable?

Dr. Morris: This is the hundred billion-dollar question and the reason I wrote the book. I expect we will start to see local water outages similar to the one that recently occurred in Pittsburgh (see my blog at ) as old pipes give way. If we are lucky, that may spark action before another major outbreak.

Q. Along these lines, what are your worst fears for a "worst case scenario"? Would it be bio-terrorism or just plain old apathy?

Dr. Morris: My worst fear would be that we allow the system to degrade for another decade and suddenly find communities that need to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars just to keep the water supply from failing completely.

“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark.

The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore


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