Bio-Frauds, Bat Houses and Bitter Tastes

Filtering Water, Attracting Bats and Biodegrading

Why does city water have a strong chlorine smell? Do water filters, like the PUR, effectively filter city water and, if so, what gets taken out?

—J.P. Miller, Hudson, WI

As a highly efficient disinfectant, chlorine is added to city water to kill any bacteria that the water may contain. After this required chlorination, small amounts of chlorine remain in the water. This residual chlorine kills pathogenic microorganisms. According to Brian Cohen at the Environmental Working Group, trace chlorine is necessary because bacteria can grow in pipes and be picked up on the way from the water plant to the user’s home. If it’s the smell that bothers you, expose water in a clear, uncovered bottle to the sun’s rays for an hour, or leave water in the refrigerator for 24 hours to volatilize out the chlorine.

Over the course of a lifetime, the health effects of drinking small amounts of chlorine, a poison as well as a disinfectant, are unknown. As a concerned consumer, there are many filters to chose from which will remove residual chlorine and other contaminants that may remain in tap water after treatment. PUR water filters seem to be a reputable choice. The PUR Plus model removes 98 percent of chlorine and lead, and 97 percent of lindane (a herbicide) and atrazine (a pesticide). Other contaminants that may be removed are mercury, asbestos, and sediment like rust that can be picked up in old pipes.


Environmental Working Group
1718 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: (202) 667-6982

9300 North 75th Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55428
Tel: (800) 787-5463.

Are bat houses worth the money? I was told by an employee of a local park that it’s not really worth putting them up, since bats rarely use them and will find other places for themselves.

—Adam Ackerman, Germantown, OH

Successful bat houses have been put up all over the world, but there is nothing you can do to guarantee you’ll attract inhabitants. The environment you live in will play a major role in the success or failure of a bat house. Obviously, if there are no bats in your area, don’t expect to attract them just because you put up a bat house. If you live in the country near water and forests with caves, it’s unlikely that bats will come to live in a little wooden box. Are bat houses actually beneficial to bats? Yes, indeed, if they’re providing an appropriate nesting space in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

According to John Seyjaget of The Lubee Foundation, which is devoted to bat research and preservation, you have to put in the extra effort to turn the house into a home. Bats will move into houses erected in urban areas, but the environmental and food conditions must also be right. Bat houses should be 18 to 20 feet above ground. They should also face the sun, so bats can warm up in the afternoon to raise their metabolisms before night flights. If you are having trouble with your bat house, occupancy can sometimes be substantially improved by moving it only a few feet higher or closer to the sun.


The Lubee Foundation
18401 NW County Road 231
Gainesville, FL 32609
Tel: (352) 485-1250

Bat Conservation International
PO Box 162603
Austin, TX 78716
Tel: (800) 538-BATS

Is there a legal definition of “biodegradable” that companies have to meet in order to so-label their products? How many cases of “eco-fraud” involving biodegradable claims occur annually?

—Bill Van Leeuwen, Hinsdale, IL

The definition given by the American Society for Testing and Materials/Institute for Standards Research (ASTM/ISR) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is: “A degradation caused by biological activity, especially by enzymatic action, leading to a significant change of the chemical structure of material.” It doesn’t appear that there is much enforcement, nor is there a national legal standard. But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prohibits false and misleading advertising, and its laws can be used to challenge unsupportable claims.

Specific industries do have scientific tests. The Degradable Polymers Council says that to be labeled biodegradable or compostable, a plastic product should satisfy two ASTM tests, one of which would “establish the biodegradability of organic components in a plastic product in a composting environment.” For chemical products to make the biodegradable claim, the elements should quickly break down to non-toxic components. Environmentalists have pointed out that some “biodegradable” products, like garbage bags, break down only when exposed to sunlight—a rare commodity at the bottom of a landfill.

In the early 90s, federal authorities say there were about half a dozen cases involving various charges of “eco-fraud,” but since then they’ve become rare.


419 State Avenue
Emmaus, PA 18049
Tel: (610) 967-4135