Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Friends in High Places

At 7,000 feet above sea level, Jeff and Travis started to worry. They were sitting in the break room at the water plant Tuesday around 7:30 a.m., and I had not yet arrived at work. (Tuesday, you'll remember, is my Monday.) They began calling my cellular phone at 7:45, the concern in Jeff's voice escalating in each recorded message. Finally, nearly panicking, they called my brother-in-law at the wastewater plant. They were standing in the stairwell to my front door. "She doesn't answer her cell, both her cars are here, and the bed is made. Did she go to her mom's for the weekend? Where's your sister-in-law?"

"I don't know. It wasn't my turn to babysit." (He's witty like that.) But then he paused to think. "Well, she was at that class yesterday..." And that's when Travis's palm hit his forehead. I was two blocks south on Harrison, in the basement conference room of the Dunmar Inn, copying multi-level chlorine dosage equations and trying to decipher seven- and eight-syllable words like bromodichloromethane and dibromochloromethane, both of which are nasty little disinfection byproducts we're trying to prevent in your drinking water. (They're trihalomethanes. Google them. You'll also find chloroform and bromoform, and you may encounter their sister toxins, the five haloacetic acids known as monochloroacetic acid, dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, monobromoacetic acid, and dibromoacetic acid.

These are all chemicals formed when the chlorine we put in drinking water to disinfect it react with organics occurring naturally in the water. Trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids are indeed cancerous carcinogens, but they occur in such low levels in EPA-regulated drinking water that they're a comparatively safe alternative to distributing unchlorinated water. Would you rather have typhoid? And don't even ask me what's in that bottled water you're drinking. The point of this class, and millions like it nationally, is to teach operators how to dose treated water with safe levels of chlorine- which is undisputedly still safer, cheaper, and more effective than alternatives like ultraviolet radiation and ozonation- and prevent those dangerous byproducts from forming. There. Feel better?)

So, even though it was unnecessary, the dear boys braved my cluttered stairwell (bicycle, tarp, shovel, broom and dustpan, stack of fossils, box of mothballs, quarter sheet of soggy plywood, two extension cords looped neatly on a heavy-duty equipment hook, several large rocks and a bag of trash, all lined against one wall from top to bottom) to peer into my cluttered apartment through the five-inch gap in my Battenburg lace curtains. To find me. If Jeff and Travis didn't really care, they would surely have stayed comfortably ensconced in their warm reclining office chairs at the plant, speculating as to my whereabouts and sipping the various toasty beverages they enjoy. Instead they climbed into that cold F-250 with the butt-battering suspension and drove across town to make sure I hadn't been abducted, which was the most prominent theory in their collection.

Next time I'm compelled to choke either one of them- or both, if they're arguing with each other- I'll remember this.


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