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Lewis Lapham: Whiz Kids Water Prank Freaks Out Town

Source: Overlook Hardcover via Bloomberg

"Drinking Water: A History," by James Salzman. Close

"Drinking Water: A History," by James Salzman.

Source: Overlook Hardcover via Bloomberg

"Drinking Water: A History," by James Salzman.

“Important!! Do not use the drinking water for any purpose,” read the notice in mailboxes, as fire trucks drove through the streets of Blackstone, Massachusetts, issuing similarly urgent warnings through loudspeakers.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

On March 28, 2006, intruders scaled a security fence topped with barbed wire, broke through a two-inch steel door, climbed a tower and crashed through a fiberglass cover protecting the town’s water supply. Finding a mysterious bucket nearby, officials responded immediately.

Schools, shops and restaurants were closed while the 1.3- million gallon system was flushed. Residents got rid of anything that might be tainted, including ice cubes and baby formula.

Lab results a few days later showed no contamination, and the culprits were found to be two 15-year-old high-school students who thought it would be fun to pee in the water tower.

Dubbed the “Whiz Kids” by a Boston paper, the two cost the town $40,000 and revealed precisely how vulnerable our drinking-water supplies are.

I spoke with James Salzman, author of “Drinking Water: A History,” on the following topics:

1. Commodity?

2. Right of Thirst

3. Roman Aqueducts

4. Safety of Supply

5. Bottled Water

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Greg Evans on movies and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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