Lithium in the Water




By Audrey McGlinchy

Should we put lithium in the drinking water? In some parts of the country, Mother Nature already has. And some bioethicists say we should follow her lead.

Since the 1940s lithium has been used to treat bipolar disorder and severe depression. Doses used to treat mental illness are much, much greater than those found in natural springs and also pose potentially dangerous side effects, including thyroid problems and significant weight gain.

But a little bit of lithium? It could make us all a touch perkier. According to a recent review of research looking at lithium found in drinking water, 9 out of 11 studies conducted in the past three decades found that residents drinking from a water source laced with lithium had lower suicide and violent crime rates than neighboring towns.

Reporter Audrey McGlinchy travels north of New York City to a town that boasts a natural lithium spring. The pipes that carried the lithium water in Cherry Valley, NY are defunct now, but they raise the question: is a small town in upstate New York sitting on a public health gold mine?

Additional reporting by Colin Archdeacon
Timeline by Caroline Lewis