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The Blue Death: The Intriguing Past and Present Danger of the Water You Drink Paperback – August 5, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060730900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060730901
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,430,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this engrossing and disquieting book, the author, who specializes in drinking water epidemiology, raises the alarm about hidden perils in our water. He traces the history of the search for water-borne pathogens from the mid-19th century, when doctors discovered the bacterium that causes cholera (the blue death), to the 20th century, when it was found that chlorination and filtration would block many of the organisms responsible for diseases such as typhoid fever, dysentery and cholera. But today, our water supply is far from safe. Some pathogens elude conventional filters; others are resistant to chlorine; and chlorinated drinking water may increase the risk of certain cancers. Climate change, emerging diseases, toxic chemicals, decaying pipes and terrorism also threaten our water. To dramatize his thesis, Morris describes devastating outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease, such as the one caused by a parasite in Milwaukee's drinking water that sickened 400,000 people in 1993. During the 19th century, doctors had to overcome opposition from those who refused to believe that diseases could be waterborne. Now, epidemiologists and researchers who advocate for tighter controls on drinking water must battle drinking water industry lobbyists who resist regulatory efforts. Morris argues persuasively that unless we do more to protect the water we drink, we court disaster.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As physician and outspoken public health expert Morris recounts, with crystal clarity, some of history's epic drinking water disasters, from the 1853 London cholera outbreak to the 1993 cryptosporidiosis outbreak that sickened some 4,000 Milwaukee residents, and how thousands were saved by improved water treatment, it's easy to be lulled into smug contentedness. After all, American water is protected by not just the Clean Water Act but also the Safe Drinking Water Act. Morris contends, however, that outdated and inadequate filtration, by means employing possibly carcinogenic chlorine, fails to remove thousands of potentially hazardous chemicals from public freshwater sources. Add that concern to a water-delivery infrastructure at or nearing the end of its design-life expectancy, and you have reason enough to shake off all science-has-saved-us complacency. Throw in the too-easily-downplayed threat of bioterrorism, and you may join in Morris' clarion call for a fiercely proactive torrent of new technology in addition to expensive, if unglamorous, infrastructure replacement. Morris put the words death, disease, and disaster in the book's title to warn readers that his no-holds-barred narrative isn't for the squeamish. Pass the vodka, please. Uh, no ice. Chavez, Donna --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Robert D. Morris, MD, PhD, is an environmental epidemiologist and a leading researcher in the field of drinking water and health. He has taught at Tufts University School of Medicine, Harvard University School of Public Health, and the Medical College of Wisconsin and has served as an advisor to the EPA, CDC, NIH and the President's Cancer Panel. His work has been featured in the New York Times and the London Times, and on Dateline NBC and the BBC. He lives in Seattle, WA.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
Truly EXCITING, gripping at every point.
Robert David STEELE Vivas
If you drink water you must educate yourself and read this book.
This is one of the best nonfiction books I've read!
Music loving farmer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on September 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In my life I have drunk water from a lot of sources. At one point when I was a teenager we discovered water bugs flowing out of a tap in Arizona! We were drinking nearly untreated river water! From then on my mother added chlorine to our drinking water and her treatment was worse than any city supply! I have drunk water from a spring in the mountains (delicious I must say) and (using a filter) from Mexican city taps. So far I am still here, but the message of the "The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water we Drink" by Robert D. Morris, is that I have been very lucky.

Water is an absolute necessity and the modern water treatment plant is our defense, however tenuous, against epidemic diarrheal disorders, including the granddaddy of them all- cholera. Still diarrheal diseases are one of the major killers worldwide, ranking with malaria and AIDS. It is especially hard on children. We in the developed world have become so used to having a "safe" water supply that we don't even think about it. But safe water is one of the many unexciting aspects of necessary infrastructure (like bridges and levees) that are closer to the breaking point than any of us want to contemplate. Morris (who is a medical researcher and teacher) has done us all a great favor by pointing out the precarious position that we are all in.

He starts with the history of the famous removal of the Broad Street pump handle in London in the mid 1850s. This removal apparently stopped an epidemic of cholera cold. He points out that even this step was controversial, with "sanitarians" not convinced of the connection between water and disease.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I get hit on a lot by authors and publishers, and one out of a hundred "leads" is actually worthwhile. This is such a lead. The author called me (the dumb ones send their stuff to create landfill) and I was absolutely interested in this topic. I list some other books below.

There are two bottom lines to this book:

1) Chlorine cannot kill all threats and causes its own damage. It specifically cannot kill cryptosporidium, which can quickly sicken tens of thousands and kill hundreds.

2) Your drinking water is not safe to drink, there are some things you can do, but on balance, the Nation needs a *major* campaign to salvage its entire drinking water and sewage treatment system.

I really, really, like this book. The author is gifted at presenting important information in an easy to understand and almost poetic manner. He really puts life into history, and urgency into current concerns.

I have a note: 5 stars. Truly EXCITING, gripping at every point.

He taught me the value of meta-analysis, and I am going to migrate that to the EarthGame that we are building with Medard Gabel, the brilliant cohort to Buckminster Fuller, whose forthcoming book, Seven Billion Billionaires, I strongly recommend.

Although I have read and strongly recommend
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By TRay on July 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Morris is an extraordinary writer and storyteller turning what could be a dry (no pun intended) topic into a page turner that is tough to put down. He unfolds his case that water is a environmental issue we all should be seriously concerned about not just globally, but in our own back yards, with histical and real life stories that are fascinating and chilling. Add it to your summer reading list!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Scott Huffman on October 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you think your public water supply is safe because "THEY" are taking care of it, then think again. This book profiles the history of water borne diseases as well as Dr. Robert Morris's initial entry into the world of public water as a college researcher. Initially naively thinking that public health was the most important issue, he soon learns that ego, competing intersts, and the politics of "not raising taxes" are far more important to many politicians, public water works directors, and even the EPA, than the truth. He explains how ego, politics, money, lack of education, and just general organizational structures in city, regional, and national governments often mitigate against protecting the public health in regard to the drinking water supply. Real life examples of full scale water disasters in the city of Milwaukee, Walerton Ontario, and New Orleans should serve as a "wake up call" to many cities around the world.

Other important issues addressed include the fact that the target is always moving because the microbial world is constantly evolving and now new organisms have emerged which can survive chlorine treatment....such as in the case of Milwaukee. And yet public officials still refuse to change the standards after huge disasters like this.

The first half of the book includes the valuable background on the history of water born diseases such as cholora, and just how devastating the death toll was before researchers discovered the connection. While this first half of the book has a lot of valuable information, it's unfortuanately written in a dramatized historical novel style which I personally found annoying.
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