Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What Cost Safety?

Pardon the cynicism, but it wasn't just this guy. Yesterday morning, Boston Councilor John Connolly and I had coffee at TC's in Hyde Park — one of many places bragging that they had water for coffee brewing.

Of course with our three-day water emergency, the sign was perfectly logical. Millions of us had the fear of something terrible wanting to get into our GI tracts from the pond and reservoir supplies running in our taps.

However, before we talked cycling, the reason for the chat, we concurred that we each believed our water had been safe all along. We also confessed to each other that we had followed the rules, boiling water and keeping a bottle by the sinks for tooth brushing and such.

As a nation, we have been reduced far too often to a better-safe-than-sorry chant and thought process. That's not the way most of us grew up, particularly us boomers. Instead, a little risk was the spice in life's daily stew. We preferred personal freedoms to hiding from thorns, abrasions and other small dangers.

Yet, now at its worst, we have that PATRIOT Act and the incursions into our liberties that would have been unthinkable even to the lead conservatives of a few decades ago. Particularly following the World Trade Towers attacks, everything seems better safe than sorry...no matter what costs.

So today, the shrinking but still largest local daily, the Boston Globe, runs "Tests confirm it — water was safe to drink all along." The piece notes that state and federal requirements included that boil-every-drop-of-tap-water routine. Bacterial tests on water samples had to be normal to go with spigot juice.

I've long ago lost track of the number of people I hear, of every age, who say, "Better safe than sorry." That in itself is sorry.

Sure, it makes sense to toss the stinky chicken in the fridge or to stay away from the unfenced cliff lip. But when did we become a nation of milquetoasts?

The considered taking of small and even medium risks used to be the American way when I was growing up. Surely the 9/11 events aren't enough to paralyze us, to make us all eager to accept any intrusion and indignity by government agents who way they are only out to keep us safe. Let it not be so.

So, John Connolly and I boiled our water for three plus days. In our defense, we live in families with kids in the house, so we have the reason and excuse of caution for others. On the other hand, we knew in our brains and hearts and from experience that the water from a different reservoir was almost certainly potable and safe enough.

We can only speculate how this would have played out if it had taken two weeks or a month to fix the aquaduct and OK the water supply.

It brings to mind the lyrics of the post-apocalyptic song by David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner, Wooden Ships. The words include:
Say, can I have some of your purple berries?
Yes, I've been eating them for six or seven weeks now,

haven't got sick once.

Probably keep us both alive.
None of us was to the point of desperation, as much of the current world is where all water is questionable. We can hope in our present that we 1) won't be like those crazed hoarders who filled up minivans with bottled water, or 2) don't meet each challenge with the collapsing response better safe than sorry.

Cross-post: This also appears at Harrumph!

Tags: , , , , fear, John Connolly

1 comment:

massmarrier said...

Long-term chum Ramona Gault commented, "I tried to post a comment but found the ID stuff a vicious circle. Anyway, I agree. And don't buy plastic bottle water. Ever. See http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/"

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