Water: Friend or Foe?

06-01-2004 // Heidi Ridgley

These days it’s not uncommon for researchers testing water quality to find potentially dangerous or disruptive properties in our water supplies. Pharmaceuticals, bacteria from slaughterhouses and caffeine have all made appearances.

So when Aliso Viego, California, city officials recently learned that a chemical compound used to make foam cups was in the Aliso Creek watershed, they jumped to action.

Initial research suggested that dihydrogen monoxide—an odorless, tasteless chemical—could be deadly if accidentally inhaled, so the city council proposed outlawing foam containers at city-sponsored events.

Then they realized that dihydrogen monoxide—H2O for short—is the scientific term for water. Apparently the paralegal doing research for the city got duped by Internet pranksters who put up official-looking websites with intentionally misleading information.

City Manager David Norman admits to be embarrassed by the gaffe, but believes Styrofoam is still a problem for the Aliso watershed and that foam cups might eventually be banned anyway.

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