Sep 3, 2010

Drink Up - The Shrimp's on the House!

A photo posted to the online sharing site Reddit has the Internet abuzz. It shows a tiny animal--a shrimp-like crustacean called a copepod--and announces that the reader found it in his New York City tap water.

"You swallow these invisible shrimp with every gulp of NYC tap water," trumpeted online blog Gizmodo about the discovery. Time magazine's website also announced the find breathlessly, exhorting New Yorkers to "drink up"--but noting that the critters may pose a problem for many of the city's Jewish residents.

"Besides a serious 'ick' factor, the copepods are technically crustaceans, which means they aren't kosher for the city's large Orthodox, observant Jewish population," the site warned.

Copepods like the one in the above photo are among the zooplankton that live in freshwater--and that's nothing to worry about. Most copepods are so small--barely 1 to 2 millimeters long--that they're more or less transparent. And they can be found in most freshwater habitats, including the reservoirs that supply public drinking water to cities like New York.

"It's one of those interesting facts you learn about local drinking water--but it's in no way dangerous," said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He explained that many cities filter their water, but if the water quality exceeds federal standards--which New York City tap water does--it doesn't require filtering, a process that would remove the copepods. Among other cities that don't filter their water are Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Sklerov said the copepods "pose no risk to human health. It's not something that's regulated because there's no harmful effects from them."

And don't worry. The creatures are considered kosher. In a 2004 article in The Jewish Press, Rabbi David Berger, a professor of history at the City University Graduate Center, said, "The notion that God would have forbidden something that no one could know about for thousands of years, thus causing wholesale, unavoidable violation of the Torah, offends our deepest instincts about the character of both the Law and its Author."

Jeremy A. Kaplan (

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