Brain-eating amoebas? In my water supply?


So, the bathroom floor of the average Free Range Bachelor is the paragon of advanced sanitation practices.


I think I saw them earlier in the woodshed.
– Ada Doom

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Struggling to understand the point of this post. This strikes me as pointless fear-mongering. Shall we stop drinking tap water?

A little context would be welcome. How prevalent are these microbes? What is being done about them? What is the actual level of risk they pose? Then you could claim you’ve “got us covered.”

The point of the article is the exact opposite of fear-mongering. Microbes are around us all the time, everywhere, and most of the time they don’t make us sick. Sometimes the naturally occuring ones even protect us from the ones that can make us sick. And for the very, very rare occasion that they do, sterilizing everything doesn’t seem to be the solution. In other words, don’t worry and, just in in case, take care of your immune system. Which, by the way, is greatly influenced by our microbiome, a staggering amount of, yes, microbes, living right inside and on our bodies.


Thanks for the excellent answer, @makerthinker!


Plain soap bar. Best sanitation product for everyday use. On your body, on the floor, on utensils. Keeps everything clean and in balance.

[quote=“mheberger, post:4, topic:30465”]Shall we stop drinking tap water?[/quote] None of us know what comes out of your tap, so none of us can answer that. Personally I drink untreated well water, and occasionally untreated stream water. Lots of bacteria, mostly E. Coli, in my stream water, quite a bit less in the well water that flows from my tap. I know this because had it analyzed before I bought the property. I recommend you analyze your water source, too.

They are quite literally everywhere. There are some in the room with you right now. Don’t look!

Personally, I am living in harmony with them. I don’t know what you are doing.

I thought the article covered that pretty well. If you don’t over-sterilize your environment, and keep a healthy heterogenous bacterial environment around you, on you, and in you, then they pose no significant risk. If you habitually and obsessively use hand sanitizers, broad-spectrum antibiotic medicines, or bactericidal cleansers and wipes, your risk goes up significantly, because those things destroy all micro-organisms without destroying the food sources micro-organisms live on - in fact, when you sterilize water you increase the available food for micro-organisms. Then the first thing that lands in the sterile area after the poison wears off will “bloom” - remember, most micro-organisms reproduce asexually - and this can create a potentially dangerous large bacterial monoculture. Your body can easily deal with two or three dangerous soil or water microbes at a time, it’s doing that right now - but your immune system cannot so easily deal with billions of them.

If you own property, here’s an easy way to strengthen your immune system: practice chemical-free gardening. When you weed the dandelions and chickweed out of your yard by hand, you will expose yourself to prophylactic doses of the very germs discussed in Maggie’s excellent article, and strengthen your immune system. Oh, and don’t use “hand sanitizers” of any sort, sneeze in your elbow, and consume plenty of fermented or brewed foodstuffs, and do something nice for your mother next Sunday. There, now you’re covered.


Thanks, very thoughful response. I get that, but I also thought this was a case of “burying the lede” beneath a sensational headline. You have to read past “brain-eating amoebas in my water supply”, “something nasty in your water”, and “it could be anywhere” to get to a list of four different micro-organisms that are prevalent and sometimes-but-not-always harmful. I should probably give boingboing readers more credit to carefully read the article. I think it has what the writer Michael Lewis calls “a reader-size hole,” where the author lets you draw your own conclusion.

I’m a sanitary engineer by training and a water-policy analyst, and I’ve seen so many sensational articles about water, and they do a lot of harm, making people doubt the safety of public water systems when in fact, most of us have little to worry about. Amoebas do NOT survive in properly treated drinking water, and it appears that this water system was seriously mismanaged. A state investigation found “parish water samples showed low residual levels of chlorine” [1] and they took immediate steps to correct it. The boy’s death was tragic, but preventable, and caused by something exceedingly rare. I guess that’s the kind of context I was looking for. Maybe as a water professional, I am just over-sensitive…

Otherwise, Maggie, quite enjoy your writing.



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