The Orthodox Union is preparing to require New York City restaurants under its supervision to filter their tap water, and to recommend that observant Jews in the city do the same.
The decision results from the recent discovery of minuscule (and nonkosher) crustaceans called copepods in New York’s tap water.
Significant controversy regarding the copepods has since occupied much of the local Orthodox community, as determinations were made about whether their presence rendered the water unkosher. Meanwhile, the scope of the problem has widened: Originally thought to be an issue only in Brooklyn, copepods were found all over New York City in subsequent tests.
At press time, the O.U. had not made its official recommendation public, as some issues requiring experimentation remained to be sorted out, including how residents of apartment buildings would be affected as it was unclear whether copepods would make it to higher floors.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the kashrut division of the O.U., told the Forward that the union has no plans to certify specific models of water filters, and that nearly any commercial filter “would do the trick.” The O.U. is planning to provide a list of recommendations for filter buyers, including that they buy under-the-sink units, purchase carbon-filtering cartridges for better taste and ensure the cartridges have rubber gaskets that prevent leaking.
Mary Mears, a regional spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency, told the Forward that the agency does not keep statistics on copepods: “They’re not a health threat, so EPA doesn’t regulate them,” she said. She noted that “they’re ubiquitous in water,” and that municipal filtration systems generally wouldn’t be a complete safeguard against their appearance in drinking water, as copepods’ “eggs can get through the filtration system, and they can reappear in the distribution system.” Mears added that “what does ensure that they won’t be present in drinking water is an at-the-tap filter.”
Genack said the O.U. has no plans at present to make similar recommendations for other areas.
Speaking for the Conservative Movement, Rabbi Kass Abelson, head of the Rabbinical Assembly’s law committee, said that “nobody has raised it as an issue to be studied or discussed.”