Monday, July 27, 2009

I Don't Want to Drink Algae

Every year in mid-July our local tap water starts to taste like muddy lake water due to an over abundance of algae called algal bloom in the lake that our water comes from. It is not harmful for us to consume because the water is treated before we consume it. It is not treated before the plant and animal life living in the lake are exposed to it, however.

A lot of people do not realize that this algal bloom when they are overfed. By overfed, I mean from unnecessary chemicals that people use in their own homes. Bleach, phosphates and other household cleaners are chief among the culprits because the algae feed off of them. Phosphates, used as a water softening agent, have been phased out of laundry detergents for this reason, but it has not been enough to stop the problem. There are still phosphates in dishwasher detergents and many fertilizers.

Most don't think of the impact that regular household bleach and other anti-bacterial agents in soaps and household cleaners have on our waterways. Look at it this way: The way that average Americans use antibacterial products is like pouring massive doses penicillin into our water every day. Just as overuse of penicillin will cause the body to develop a yeast (fungal) infection, so will the overuse of antibacterial products cause a development of too much algae (fungus) in the water. This is not conducive to healthy plant and animal life in the lake any more than it is conducive to healthy flora in our bodies whenever we take too many antibiotics. It really is that simple.

We all need to be aware that what we do inside our homes and on our lawns has an impact beyond simply having a cleaning home and greener grass. I have replaced all of my commercial products with environmentally friendly ones, but every July it is driven home to me the importance of getting the word out to others when I smell that earthy smell in my tap water. I volunteer for my city's environmental task force. We go to schools and other groups and educate them on the dangers of this phenomenon. I hope that we are positively influencing people but then every summer I get a whiff of the tap water and I am disappointed that the problem hasn't gone away.

Of course it is not just household use of these products that is causing algal bloom, but also industrial use. The problem seems overwhelming to me when I think of how widespread the predicament is. That is when I realize I can only do what I can. I can't stop the whole phenomenon myself, but I can do my best to use non-harmful products myself and caution others to do the same. I have been very pleased with my choices. My family is also benefiting because they are no longer exposed to harmful chemicals inside our home and we are having an effect on the world beyond our front door. This is important to me and, I hope it will become important to everyone else as well. Together a huge difference can be made.