An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part II

An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part II

  The United Water Blog sat down with Professor Jim Salzman from Duke University to speak about his new book, Drinking Water: A History.  We’re both water wonks who have an interest in bringing important information about the most essential public service – water – to a general audience.  And that is exactly what his new book does.  We asked him for his thoughts on popular water issues and debates; from bottled water, to infrastructure investments. This is the second of two installments of our interview with Salzman.   UW Blog:  In your book that details the history of drinking water, you imply that there are historical incidences of people thinking that their water was safe and clean when it really wasn’t. And now there may be a perception that drinking water is less safe than it actually is.  Was there a historical incident that marked this change in perception? Salzman: The question of  drinking water safety is  very interesting. To a certain extent it’s always been considered clean and drinkable.  Our notion of what is safe has changed. Every society throughout history has had to have some reliable sources of drinking water. They had no choice. Even before the understanding of the germ theory of disease entered our collective conscience, each society, 100 years or 500 years ago believed their water was “safe enough.” Sure, people got sick from time to time, but that was the nature of things. Just a hundred years ago, dying from waterborne typhoid or cholera was commonplace in the United States. Waterborne diseases remained commonplace until municipal drinking water systems were built and...