Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- “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.
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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:
2. Right of Thirst
3. Roman Aqueducts
4. Safety of Supply
5. Bottled Water
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(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.)
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