August 2020 | Water Pollution

Dihydrogen monoxide can kill you, bro

In this post, we read, listen, act, and reflect on November's topic: fracking. This article has been adapted from our sustainability newsletter, so please sign up for it to stay in the loop.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

What’s covered:

In middle school or on Tumblr, I can't remember which, there was a solid month where people thought it was the funniest thing ever to warn others that they might potentially be drinking dihydrogen monoxide. (Yup, that's H2O, otherwise known as water.)

Anyways, that was years ago when we were bored enough to invent problems. In 2020, we've got more than enough to worry about... and unfortunately, that does involve our buddy dihydrogen monoxide. I'll stop calling it that, though, cause it's super corny.

On that note, August is National Water Quality Month! That's going to be the topic for this month's Changeletter.

In today's READ module, we're going to talk about how "water quality degradation translates directly into environmental, social and economic problems," according to UNESCO. Before doing the research for this week's newsletter, I've only ever thought about water quality as it pertains to places like Flint, Michigan.

I had a lot to learn.

READ: This is going to be a little gross

I'm just going to lay out some facts for you. These are all from UNESCO.

1. Over 10% of people worldwide lack safe or improved drinking water.

2. Lack of sanitation is one of the most significant forms of water pollution.
2.4 BILLION people live without any form of sanitation. In other words, ~30% of people in the world are living in unhygenic conditions.

3. We're contaminating the little water we've got.
90% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated directly into water bodies. According to the Global Water Partnership (GWP), only 3% of the world's water is freshwater, and of that, only 1.5% is accessible.

4. Water is a finite resource. But every day, 2 MILLION TONS of sewage drain into the world's water.

5. The problem is so large we can't visualize it. Industry discharges an estimated 300-400 megatons of waste into water bodies every year. A megaton is 1,000,000 tons. I can't comprehend it. Can you?

If there's one article I want you to read about water quality, it's this one from the NRDC. It's called Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know, and it's a *really* good overview. Here's a few things I learned.

That's all for today. I really want us all to sit with this information and think about what we take for granted, and more importantly, how empowered we are to make a difference here. Read the article!

Sign up for our newsletter if you learned anything new in this edition! I didn't know much about water pollution before, so I'm curious where other people are at. You can reply directly to our newsletter welcome email or get in touch at

Where does your poo go after you poop?

When we create waste in our homes that goes into the water system (sinks, toilets, drains), it’s out of sight -> out of mind for most of us.

I won’t let you off the hook that easily.

We have got to take water pollution seriously, and one way to get educated while caring a little more is understanding where our waste goes. The video I’m linking is only 3 minutes long, and I’ve included a bonus video that explains water pollution for kids!

Here’s a few things I learned according to the Business Insider video:

Bonus: Here’s the video on water pollution you can show any little ones in your life. I confess I watched it and enjoyed it thoroughly - finally a simple explanation that gave me the info I wanted.

ACT: Drain, drain, go away

Before I share 4 actions you can take to minimize water pollution, I want to introduce Zöe Pettit, one of our most supportive readers. I love collaborating with her because we share a “do your best” approach to sustainability, welcoming you wherever you are on your climate journey. Here’s more about her blog, Cut the Crap! We got our actions 2 and 3 directly from her site.

My aim for this site is to allow every single person to come here when they feel even the slightest bit activated and have a variety of options of ways to take action in your home, in your community, or world-wide even! It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and scared with everything happening in the climate movement, but it is seen time and time again if you can channel how you feel and push past it will allow you to be the very best activist you can be. - Zöe Pettit, Cut the Crap

So, here goes.

  1. DO NOT FLUSH STUFF THAT’S NOT TOILET PAPER! Sorry for yelling, but I need my inner self to hear, because I am guilty of flushing so many non-flushable items down the toilet out of ignorance. On this list: flushable wipes! floss! hair! And yes, flushable wipes should not be flushed.
  2. Flushable wipes cause the biggest trouble for toilets and septic systems since so many people use them and think that they are “flushable.” As a result, there have been public awareness campaigns, lawsuits, and countless stories of the problems they cause for sewage treatment centers. Brands are now being forced to remove the “flushable” and “disposable” labels and warn consumers not to flush them. - Hiller
  3. If you can’t handle a child, adopt a drain instead! Storm drains flow directly to local lakes, rivers, and wetlands, acting as a conduit for trash and organic pollutants. Adopt-a-Drain asks residents to adopt a storm drain in their neighborhood and keep it clear of leaves, trash, and other debris to reduce water pollution. Sign up here - it’s an activity you can do with friends and family for some COVID outdoor productivity before it gets too cold. #NoPoopyWater

  4. Watch where you blow. For those of you lucky enough to have a yard, when mowing it, do not blow clippings into the street or onto paved surfaces. Just 5 bags worth of leaves have enough phosphorus in them to create 1,000 lbs of algae growth in lakes and creeks (which is terrible for our water-dwelling friends).

  5. Understand your local water quality. Okay, so I’m still working on this, but you can pull up your Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to understand your local water quality. Pulling up the information was easy for San Francisco… but I’m still trying to figure out how serious these contaminants are. (I searched “poop” but it was not found.) I welcome any help in interpreting the report!

That’s it for this section. I’m going to need some time to get over this whole flushable wipes scam.

REFLECT: Rocket fuel in our water?

Welcome to the next section of the "Nivi tells you how crappy your drinking water is, literally" show.

Okay, seriously though, this week, after this sentence, I will NOT be talking about poop! Great news!

Buuuut unfortunately I will have to tell you that there are 85,000+ industrial chemicals used in the United States. Guess how many contaminants are restricted by law? (Keep reading if you dare...)

One of the chemicals in our water - and also, our food - is perchlorate. It's a dangerous ingredient in rocket fuel.

Everything you see today is found in this Politico article: What Broke the Safe Drinking Water Act?