Bottled Water Versus Tap – Are You Taking a Risk With Your Drinking Water?
by Samantha Haugen
It’s commonly known that clean drinking water plays a vital role in our health. The Safe Drinking Water Association estimates that waterborne diseases and contaminated drinking water are responsible for 80% of all illnesses in developing countries.
With the long standing debate of bottled water versus tap water, what are the safety concerns and precautions put in place to protect us from contaminants in either source?
While bottled water sales are at an all-time high in the U.S and the industry continues to climb, tap water sources still provide over 1 billion gallons of water every hour to U.S residents (International Bottled Water Association). It’s clear that both industries are well-established in the U.S, assuming your drinking water is safe because it’s sourced in a developed country may be a risky oversight.
Both bottled and tap water industries are held up to specific safety standards in the U.S, with the EPA – Environmental Protection Agency – governing tap water and the FDA – Food and Drug Administration – regulating bottled water.
How Safe Is Our Tap Water?
The EPA has legal regulations for more than 90 contaminants when testing tap water, some commonly recognized ones include E. coli, Salmonella, and metals such as lead (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Though the U.S is widely considered as having one of the safest water supplies worldwide (CDC), we still see water contamination concerns arise, like the case in Flint, MI back in 2014.
Contaminants can be naturally occurring in tap water sources, or introduced throughout the disinfection process. Chloramine is one such chemical that is used to help eliminate organic tap water contaminants.
Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia and is a known respiratory irritant that has proven difficult to fully remove once introduced to a water supply (Citizens Concerned About Chloramine).
Research and previous studies on using chloramine in tap water treatment processes are not considered fully extensive by the EPA and concerns linking chloramine to reproductive, respiratory, and dermal (skin) issues as well as cancer still exist (CCAC).
Conversely, the CDC does maintain that the levels of chloramine in tap water sources are at safe drinking levels (CDC).
Chlorine is one of the few, if not the only, cleaning agent that has been extensively researched in drinking water (CCAC), but chloramine may be used instead during the disinfection process to avoid the risk of chlorine mixing with organic matter to form Trihalomethanes (THMs).
Trihalomethanes are an example of a disinfection byproduct created when naturally occurring organic matter mixes with cleaning agents, specifically chlorine (CCAC).
Until sufficient research is done to prove chloramine is safe to consume, it can be argued that it should be removed from the disinfection process.
How then, would we use chlorine (arguably the safer choice of cleaning agent), when we run the risk of it combining with organic matter to create THMs?
One solution is to stop the organic matter from ever coming into contact with chlorine, by removing it from the water supply before the cleaning and filtration process begins (CCAC).
Despite the chemicals that exist in drinking water, you do not need to run for the hills and ditch tap water altogether. Check out the Environmental Work Group’s Tap Water Database to see the contaminants in your tap water and their suggestions for how to filter them out.
Additionally, here is a Water Filter Guide that helps you look into the different water filters currently in the market so you can make an informed decision on which one is right for you.
What About Bottled Water?
Exploring the industry of bottled water, the FDA mandates that U.S bottled water facilities are inspected on an annual basis. They have the jurisdiction to gather samples at any time of the year from any bottled water facility for testing, with or without probable cause for safety and health concerns (International Bottled Water Association).
However, along with the EPA, there is no regular schedule for these random samplings. So, your drinking water from both bottled and tap water sources is tested for contaminants, but perhaps not as regularly as one would like.
Just like with tap water, it is important to know where your bottled water is sourced from and how it is treated for contaminants. This can sometimes be found on the bottle label, but since there is no standardized label for bottled water, I suggest researching the bottled water company to learn more about where their water is sourced from.
It’s also important to hold bottled water corporations as accountable as the tap water industry in providing us with clean, safe drinking water. See the CDC’s Guide to help highlight what you should be on the lookout for when reading bottled water labels.
Do We Need to Change Our Habits?
With bottled water consumption comes the environmental concern of single-use plastic. As a species, “human beings buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total. Only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled in the U.S,” reports the international charity Earth Day.
Plastic that is left un-recycled can lead to microplastic pollution. Microplastics are very small, broken down bits of plastic that are more and more often found in our oceans and being consumed by the animals that inhabit them.
In a 2018 study reported by CNN that centered on sea turtles, microplastics were found in the systems of every single sea turtle in the study (over 100 turtles, spanning across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean oceans).
NBC reported that microplastics were found in the ocean at depths ranging from 200 to 600 meters in the deep ocean.
While it is unknown just how much plastic has made its way into our oceans, it has been roughly calculated that almost 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
What Are Some Steps in the Right Direction?
Whether you consume bottled water, tap water, or a mix of both, there are many additional areas of your life you can cut back on single-use plastic. Some examples include asking for your water without a plastic straw when you are out to eat at a restaurant, or requesting no plastic silverware in your takeout meal and using your own silverware when you get home.
There’s also no need to buy water in plastic bottles when boxed water exists.
Additionally, you can show your support for organizations committed to cleaning up our environment. Check out Ocean Blue Project’s online store and grab a new t-shirt, water bottle, bracelet…or just simply donate! Even $5 goes a long way and can make a difference.
Coming from one financially unstable person to another, we can all shelve out a few bucks to ensure a healthy future for our kids and our environment.
Brainstorming ways you can cut back on single-use plastic, researching where your water is sourced from and the contaminants introduced and filtered out during treatment processes, are all great ways to educate yourself on the environmental impact you have on the world around you.
Author Bio: Samantha Haugen is an environmentally-conscious writer with a passion for reading, running, and giving all the animals out there some love (especially dogs).
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