Water Works II

The Kitchen

GUEST: Announcer

    [AB is watching television, and sipping water from a plastic bottle]

ANNOUNCER: You've been watching "Waterworld", starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper. Critics often refer to this movie as one of the worst ever ...

    [AB shuts off the television] I just love that movie. I never get tired of watching it. Oh, I know it's supposed to be science fiction. But you know what? If it wasn't for Kevin Costner's character having gills and all, that could all happen. Yeah. I mean, think about it. Water already occupies, like, 75% of the planet's surface. According to the United States Geological Survey, the oceans contain some 321 million cubic miles of water, okay. Now just to kind of help you get your head around that, that means that, like 1,103,984,640,000 gallons per cubic mile. Either way, we're talking about a big gulp here. And, of course, there's another 5,733,000 cubic miles of water locked up in glaciers and polar ice caps. You know if that all melted at once, your ski chalet in the Rockies could be a dive destination.
    You know, no matter how you look at this subject, water is fascinating stuff. I mean, look at it this way: it is the only substance on earth that exists as a solid, liquid, and vapor in nature. You know, our first aquatic episode focused on what water goes through to get to us here in our homes. This time, let's look at what you can and should do to get the most out of it here in your kitchen. Think of it as a 30-minute owner's manual for water, which is nothing, if not ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Oxygen Atom
            Fluorine Atom
            Escherichia Coli Bacterium

    As we pointed out in our last water episode, the Environmental Protection Agency enforces very high quality standards for drinking water in this country, but there are three things to keep in mind. They are only responsible for water up until the point that it leaves the mains. Even if it is clean and safe, [it] doesn't necessarily [mean that it will] taste good. And, depending on the overall health of you and your family, E.P.A. standards might just not be good enough. But before we get into what you can do about these issues, let us review some of the properties that make water such a potentially pesky substance to deal with.

Bad bad water bugs:
Escherichia coli
Giardia lamblia

    Hey, let's take a moment to meet a very very special atom. With an atomic mass of 15.9994, an atomic number of 8, he's number one in our hearts, Oxygen! [applause]

ATOMIC MASS = 15.9994


AB: Hey, good afternoon, and thanks for being here on the show.
OA: [sarcastically] Yeah, it's really fantastic to be here.
Yes. You know, I can't help but notice, just from the look on your face, your general demeanor, and of course, your position on the Periodic Table of Electronegativity—Pauling scale, of course—you are a very negative atom.

From http://www.webelements.com

OA: Sure. You would be too if you had a big zero on your chest. [indicating the letter "O" on his costume]
AB: Ha ha ha ha ha. Maybe, maybe. You know, I hear that only fluorine is more negative than you, and he hasn't been able to get out of bed since 1987.

Fluoride's Bed

FA: [In bed] I'm so negative, I can't even get out of bed.

The Kitchen

OA: At least he looks comfortable.
AB: Ha ha ha. He sure does. Of course, you know, folks don't often flock to this kind of negativity, but certain atoms do. For instance, hydrogen. [puts two gloves labeled "H" on each of the hands of the oxygen atom]
OA: Whoa. Ahhhh. That feels ... stable.
AB: Yeah, it is. And now, where once there was just a lonely old oxygen atom, we've got a brand new molecule called water!
OA: Hmm.
AB: But, of course, because of where they bond to you, you now have an imbalanced electrical charge.
OA: Figures.
AB: Yeah, you see, you've got a positive charge up here [where the Hydrogen gloves are], and a negative charge down there [indicates downward]. Well, you know what that means.
OA: No.
AB: You're polar.
OA: Oh. Doesn't seem that cold in here.
AB: Oh, that's not what I mean. I mean, you'll never be lonely again.
OA: Why's that?
AB: Well, if you're ground water, you're going to rub up next to plenty of other polar compounds. You know, rock, minerals, stuff like that. And they're going to want to stick to you like a magnet on, well, a magnet. [sticks a bunch of small objects, representing minerals, to the water molecule] There. As you can see, my wet friend, you are an excellent, nay, near universal solvent capable of dissolving a wide range of molecular products from carbohydrates, like sugar, to proteins, like collagen. Which is why you, my friend, are capable of making a simple syrup and a chicken stock.
OA: [looking down at some black objects] Why don't they like me?
AB: Ahh, forget them. They're hydrocarbons. They're non-polar. They're never going to stick to you. But buck up. You're mineral water.
OA: Oh, so people will pay a lot of money for me, huh?
AB: Well, if you contain at least 250 parts per million of dissolved solids, and come in a real fancy bottle, maybe. But you have to know that, well, ground water can pick up too many minerals. For instance, that hydrogen sulfide down there can make you smell and taste like rotten eggs. That iron, can turn white sinks brown. Lead can leach out of pipes. Arsenic ...
OA: I'm doomed!
AB: Oh no, that's not the worst of it. You see, your aqueous nature makes you the perfect host for ...
OA: For what?
AB: ... critters. [a puppet appears looking suspiciously like the cookie monster]
EC: Hi.
OA: [to EC] Hello. [to AB] What is that?
AB: A bacteria. Not sure what kind.
EC: E. coli. Nice to meet you.
OA: I'm double-dog doomed.
AB: No, you're not. Water treatment plants around this country disinfect waters like you every day of the week using a wide range of technologies the most common of which is just plain, good old chlorine. Take that, you nasty bug [sprays the E. coli]
EC: [coughs and falls away]
OA: Smells like, uh, smells like my cousin. He lives in the pool at the "Y".
AB: Well, that is called "residual chlorine". And although it can be a little bit of an annoyance, it's a sign that chlorine is still working to keep you safe. Think of it as a molecular bodyguard.
OA: Oh, good. I could use a bodyguard.

    Speaking of bodyguards, General Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove" called it "a monstrously conceived and dangerous Commie plot to contaminate our precious bodily fluids." But the CDC says that adding fluoride to tap water is one of the ten most important health upgrades of the 20th century. Even a measly four parts per million can significantly strengthen the enamel on growing teeth. So, if your kid doesn't smile like Leon Spinks, odds are good, you've got fluoride to thank.

Leon Spinks


Every 24 hours the body recycles the equivalent of 40,000 glasses of water.

The Kitchen

    Most of the water that flows through American pipes and into our kitchens looks like this, [AB is through a container of colorless water] all sparkling and squeaky clean. But we still have to contend with these impurities.

OA: Help me.
AB: Me me me. You're so self-absorbed.
OA: I'm the new oil, G. You wanna front with this?

    There's nothing wrong with him that some attitude adjustment and some filtration couldn't fix. Now, when it comes to filtration, we home consumers generally have three options. The most common, and certainly the least expensive, is a pitcher or carafe-style filtration system. And it works, of course, because of this wee little cartridge here. Hey, let's take it to the lab.

AB: [to OA] Front with you? You want a piece of me?

The Lab

    Revealing the secrets of a water filter cartridge is very very easy. All you have to do is be willing to void the warranty a little bit [opens the cartridge and empties the contents]. There we go. And we can reveal that inside this little guy, you have two different forms of media. One, kind of like little balls, these little plastic balls that are impregnated with an ion exchange resin. More on that later. The other substance is a form of charcoal, but not everyday charcoal. It is, in fact, referred to as "activated" or "active charcoal". It is a special form of carbon that is so riddled with little cracks, nooks, and crannies, that a mere gram of it possesses the surface area of not one, but two tennis courts.

Two standard tennis courts have a total combined area of 14,400 square feet.

    Now a wide range of substances, organic compounds, pesticides, benzene, certain metals, radon, and chlorine gas, will stick to this surface via adsorption. That's with a "d". Sponges absorb, and that's another thing altogether.
    Now this is a very, very effective detoxifying type of media, which is why it is often used in respirators and old-fashioned gas masks. [AB holds up a toy bunny, wearing a gas mask] By running your water through this kind of thing, you can definitely improve both the flavor and the aroma.

AB: [addressing the blackboard] See the bunny? See the bunny?
BLACKBOARD: [becomes excited by shaking back and forth]
AB: Okay, go get the bunny. Go get it. [throws it off screen]
BLACKBOARD: [chases it]

    Ha ha ha. It's the best blackboard I ever had.

We know what you're thinking and no, you can't filter
water through the charcoal you buy for your grill.

The Kitchen

    If water filter cartridges like this only contained activated charcoal, then our water would definitely be cleaner, but we would still be plagued with inorganic compounds, things like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, radium, things like that. Those we have to get rid of with a process called "ion exchange".

AB: You remember those little plastic beads in here?
OA: Uh uh.
AB: Oh. Well, come here, come here. Here we go. [holds the stuff under a magnifying lens] Now the black stuff is the active charcoal and the other little beads, see them?
OA: No.
AB: No. Well, okay, fine. If you could see the beads, each one of them would kind of like, uh, um ... Okay, like a big brown suitcase, okay? They are suitcases that are full of ions ...

Ion: a charged subatomic particle (like for instance an electron or proton).*

AB: [demonstrating with props as he speaks] ... good ions, ones that won't hurt you, okay? So when the water comes past the bead, the bead pulls all these guys off. But of course, it can't just leave them off because that would leave an electrical imbalance. So, it simply replaces them with an equal number of good ions or at least ones that won't hurt you. There. And then when this gets full of bad ions, well, usually by then you know you're ready to change that cartridge. Hey, how do you feel?
OA: Eh, great.
AB: Well, you look good.
OA: [looks at his hand, which has a prop representing a spore] Ahhhhhhh!
AB: Whoa.
OA: What's that? Is it a tumor?
AB: No, I don't think so. [removes it]. I think it's a ... [opens the prop, it is filled with gummy worms, picks up one, and eats it]
OA: [faints in disgust]

    No, that's not a tumor. That's a, that's a gummy worm. But it's also cleverly posing as a bacterial spore.

AB: [to the oxygen atom, on the floor] You, rest.

    Spores, and their close cousins, cysts, are really just hard little capsules that certain bacteria hide inside in order to protect them through the reproductive cycle. Now what makes these guys such a challenge is, one, they're very, very very small, and two, they are highly resistant to chlorine. Because of that, they often sneak their way through municipal water treatment plants to your home. It's usually not a real big deal because the kind of bugs that generally hide inside these things, like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, have to attack you in large numbers in order to really make you sick. But if you have small children in your household, or seniors, or folks with any kind of immune system problem, or if you're just plain paranoid, you might want to get yourself a spore filtration system.
    Now the problem is, is that most filtration systems are really only meant to capture particulate matter. And they've got screens that are about four to five microns wide, okay, and that's four to five millionths of a meter. The problem is is that they can catch things that will make your water cloudy. But spores, they slip right through four, five, three, two micron screens, right down to one micron. This is what you really need. How do you know when you're shopping? Well, you want to look for these words. It's not enough that a filter says it's one micron, you want an absolute pore size of one micron. That will ensure that none of the holes are larger than one micron, okay? You can also look for the N.S.F. or National Sanitation Foundation Standard 53 or 58 for cyst removal. Now that you know what most water filters do, you can choose your platform wisely.
    Besides my favorite carafe model, faucet mounts and under-sink systems have the advantage of far greater volume, and in most cases, water pressure too. But remember, no matter what form of filter you decide to use, cartridges are cartridges and they have got to be replaced regularly. You see, eventually the pores in the active carbon will plug up. The filtration will clog. And then, all of these little cartridges become kind of like bacterial breeding grounds. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose, you know.

Water makes up about 85% of your brain,
80% of your blood and 70% of your muscle.

The Kitchen

    In some parts of this country, ground water passes through limestone, chalk, dolomite, or marble. It can pick up a lot of calcium and magnesium along the way.

OA: Sounds kind of healthy, actually.
AB: Well, yeah, for drinking. But for washing, it's kind of, well ... Come on, I need a shower.
OA: Dude, I'm water. I don't shower.
AB: Come on!

The average 15 minute shower uses 60 gallons of water.

The Shower

[AB is in the shower (we can't see him) and OA
is standing outside, a little embarassed]

AB: See, calcium and magnesium react with stearates in the soap creating a kind of insoluble scum. Very nasty. Makes it really, really hard to froth up any suds which is why they call it "hard water". And it gets worse. Hey, can you hand me that towel? The calcium can precipitate out of the water, creating hard, white scales on things like the insides of electric kettles, water heaters, and the spray arms inside your washing machine. Why, one time, in Utah, I saw a shower head that looked like it had stalactites hanging off of it.
OA: Am I doomed?
AB: [steps out of the shower fully clothed] No, you're not doomed. We just need to soften you up a little. Let's go to the basement.
OA: Okay.

Basement Dungeon

AB: Now I don't want you to worry about a thing, okay? Because a water softener is nothing but a big ion exchange. It's going to cash in some of that magnesium and calcium for sodium. The nice thing about having a built-in system like this is it'll soften all the water in the house. That way, your hot water heater doesn't get all crusty and nasty.
OA: You decorate this place yourself?
AB: Oh no, we rent this place out to this little dungeon ... Anyway, we won't see him.
AB: So, here's how it works. You open this up, and you fill this reservoir with salt. This is just big old rock salt. And the tank fills up with water, dissolves just a little bit of that salt, mixes it up, and then it basically, well, it kind of ... [pulls off a bunch of sticky things on OA's body, representing calcium and magnesium, and replaces all of them with two plus signs]
OA: What are these?
AB: Sodium.

    But don't worry, it's a very small amount. Unless you have a health-related sodium issue, you'll never even know it's there.

AB: How do you feel?
OA: Pretty good.
AB: Eh, you look, you look good. But come on. We've spent so much time cleaning you up, we're almost late for the big dance number. Come on!
OA: Dance number? Oh, man.

For those concerned about salt intake, potassium
based softening systems are also available.

The Kitchen

    Amazing, isn't it? Oh, I know, it doesn't look like much from here, but trust me, this is a very, very big deal. I mean, have you ever wondered why it takes so gosh darn long for a pot of water to come to a boil? Because, water has a very high specific heat. That means it can absorb a vast amount of energy without actually having its temperature change. What's going on? Well, let's take a closer look, shall we?
    Under normal circumstances, the average water molecule makes and breaks a few dozen hydrogen bonds a second. It's just the way water is. Pour on more energy, and the bond building and breaking speeds up considerably, but the temperature goes up very slowly. This is good news. Because it means that once a cooking solution reaches a desired temperature, it's a lot easier to maintain that temperature than it would be in, say, something like oil. This is why we bake delicate custards in a hot water bath. The water absorbs heat from the oven without delivering it all to the cups.
    Now once water reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit—or 100 degrees Celsius, at sea level, of course—the temperature stops climbing and the water begins to boil. That is, the hydrogen bonds are building and breaking so quickly that the water molecules just begin escaping into the vapor state.
    Compared to other substances that are liquid at room temperature, 212 Fahrenheit is darned hot. Acetone, for instance, boils at a measly 132 degrees, methanol at 149, ethanol at 174.4, and propanol at 206.6. Anyway, the energy that is carried away by this vapor is very useful, because ...

The Bathroom

[AB is standing outside the shower where steam is forming on the glass] ... when that steam hits a cooler body and condenses, thus changing phases yet again, it releases a huge amount of heat, which is why this broccoli will actually cook faster in steam than it will in boiling water, even though the water is obviously far denser than the vapor.
    Now the really groovy side of this equation is that, if exposed to dry surroundings, regardless of the temperature, that water will turn back into vapor, taking more heat with it, and that is why sweating cools us down. It's also why crocks are good at keeping water cool.

Typically, vegetables retain more nutrients when steamed rather than boiled.

The Kitchen

    [dispenses water from a water crock] Because this vessel is ever so slightly porous, a small amount of water is always evaporating out of it. And that vapor cools the water inside, well below the temperature of the air on the outside. In fact, in places like India, this technology is exploited to actually produce ice. Oh, speaking of ice ...
    Here's yet another way that water's curious hydrogen bonding abilities make it different. Now everybody knows that stuff contracts and gets dense when it's cold, right? Well, water is no exception. As the energy drops, the molecules get closer and closer and closer and closer, until they drop below 4 degrees Celsius. Then they do something really strange. Like a marching band at dress right, they line up and spread out in a uniform pattern. Eventually, all movement ceases, and the solid called 'ice' is formed. What's interesting is that this crystalline form is less dense than the liquid, which is why ice floats.
    If you are a home owner who has experienced a busted pipe in winter, or a sea captain, who has, maybe, run an ocean liner into an iceberg, then the ramifications of this expansion are not lost on you. As for the relationship between ice and the cook, well, that'll have to wait for another show.

Until recently, the Hungarian Parliament building
was cooled by ice harvested from local lakes.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Two Spa Masseuses

SM: [massaging and grooming OA]

    Well, I hope that we've given you a new appreciation for good old H2O. Regardless of how it gets into your home, how you decide to treat it once it's there can radically improve its flavor and performance.

OA: Yeah, that fancy bottled stuff ain't got nothing on me.
AB: No, you're, you're the aqua-bomb, no doubt about it. Uh, thank you, ladies. His break's over. Thank you, thanks very much.
OA: Hold on. Wait a second now here. I'm water, alright? I erode mountains, sink ships, I fill the skies with clouds. I say when the break's over.
AB: Oh, yeah. Well let me tell you something. If you don't get over and erode some of the remains off of last night's dishes, the next verb you'll be contemplating is flush.
OA: [get up].
AB: Yep, bye bye.

    Oh, speaking of flush, America, you should know that although we only make up 5% of the world's population, we consume 15% of the world's fresh water. Now just to put that into context, the average you and me will go through 105 gallons of water a day. The average African, 15. Just a little beverage for thought.

AB: How are you doing over there?
OA: [struggling with dishwashing] Yeah, I'm the universal solvent, but it sure would be nice to have a couple of hands. Come on, wash.

*This is not right. An ion is an atom, or bonded group of atoms, where the number of electrons is not equal to the number of protons. It is not a subatomic particle at all. The only case of where AB may have an argument is in the case of a single proton. But in water, this proton is hydrated. The general form of this hydrated proton is H(H2O)n+, and is often written as H3O+]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010