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How would your 6-year-old self react to the thought of drinking and digesting Sea Monkeys after every gulp of drinking water?
Well, calm down—you’re not drinking your little pride-and-joys, but you may be drinking some sort of living microscopic specs from that water! That’s right; microorganisms have been found in the drinking water of cities that do not need to filter their water—cities such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland.
You might be thinking, “Wait, my city doesn’t filter my drinking water?” But fear not, it’s because the water reaches a certain criteria designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA and FDA regulate every city’s water to make sure it’s protected and safe to consume. So unless you live in a state with fracking or lead issues, you hopefully don’t have to worry about consuming poisons in your tap water.
The NYC Department of Health website clearly explains that the water regulation process is thorough and strict. In partnership with county health departments, they regulate the operation, design, and quality of public water and commercial bottled water suppliers. This assures water sources are “adequately protected,” meaning financial assistance is provided to public water suppliers and plans for proposed realty subdivisions are given approval. They also set standards for constructing individual water supplies and individual wastewater systems, like septic systems.
These rules where established in 1974 with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) that requires the monitoring of water and sets limits on contamination. It also states that the larger the population served by a water system, the more frequent requirement for monitoring and reporting. So even with NYC’s water getting checked several times more often than smaller towns and suburbs, these little swimmers are still getting the go ahead. Why is that?
Well, though they were accused of not being kosher and aren’t really pro-vegan, they’re actually harmless and maybe even healthy for you! Let us explain.
These little guys aren’t like the sea monkeys you used to grow at home. They’re actually called “copepods.” They typically grow to about one or two millimeters long and are mostly transparent, which means they’re invisible to the naked human eye.
Marine biologist and director of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Mike Schaadt, tells BTRtoday that these copepods are part of a group of organisms called “zooplankton,” or “animal” plankton, and they feed off of “phytoplankton,” or “plant” plankton. And according to Schaadt, these critters are found in fresh and saltwater habitats.
Little copepods are not the only living organisms that can be found in our drinking water. “There are many organisms that can be found,” he says. “Even the best of filters let some bacteria through and certain bacteria and viruses could indeed cause trouble, but those are the ones being screened out by the people testing our waters.”
He explains that copepods are crustaceans, also known as “water fleas,” which puts them in the same group as crabs and shrimp. He says another microorganism that can be found in many fresh and salt water systems are called “rotifers.” They’re very small, and he assures us they are harmless.
With crabs and fish, seafood allergies may seem to be a concern. Can people with a seafood allergy have a reaction when they drink water containing these copepods?
Schaadt says that it’s always smart to address this to your allergist if you have an over-active immune system or allergic reactions, but that there aren’t enough of these copepods in the water to cause any large issues.
“It’s not like you can filter a gallon of water and then end up with a palm full of them,” Schaadt conveys. “Always check with a specialist, but in general, it’s not a problem for people.”
Some cities even purposely put them in their water! Why?
That’s because these little dudes have been found to eat mosquito larvae. Everyone knows mosquitos can carry all types of life-threatening disease. When cities are concerned about things like the Zika virus, Malaria, or West Nile virus, they add these copepods in hopes that they’ll shrink the mosquito population.
However, there is one issue that is constantly debated within a huge population of NYC.
The Orthodox Jewish community, which is more than one million of the estimated eight million people in the city, struggles over whether to drink filtered water or stick with the tap water. Many believe the crustaceans to be un-kosher, while others in the religious group disagree.
Rabbi and professor of history at City University Graduate Center (CUNY), David Berger, told The Jewish Press in 2004, “The notion that God would have forbidden something that no one could know about for thousands of years, thus causing wholesale, unavoidable violation of the Torah, offends our deepest instincts about the character of both the Law and its Author.”
Another concerned rabbi, Yisroel Belsky, told the New York Times that he is concerned that the debate will cause all types of disputes in the community, especially between married couples.
The kosher debate still carries on, though at this point, it seems more rabbis feel–since the organisms aren’t visible by the naked eye–that the water is fine to consume.