How Do You Take Your Water?

Zachary B., Health

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small  waterHow do you take your water?  Tap, bottled, filtered?  And is there a difference?  According to National Geographic News Watch, sales of bottled water were over $9.1 billion in 2011 and on the rise.  Although we are consumed with the idea that bottled water is better, in the United States that might not be the whole truth.  Learn the facts about water and where you should run to for your next glass. 

Let’s begin with good old tap water.  It’s federally regulated under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, which established rigorous testing and regulations for public water.  Under this act, public water facilities must meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or risk breaking Federal law.  As a consequence, for the most part, public drinking water is rigorously tested to ensure safe levels of over 90 contaminants, including organic chemicals like pesticides, inorganic chemicals like arsenic or asbestos, and finally for the presence of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.  Water quality reports are even typically made public for your review and you should feel free to request one.        

How does bottled water stack up?  Well, bottled water in the United States is regulated differently.  In fact, it’s in the same category as food.  This puts it under the standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and not the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act.  Fortunately, the FDA sets safety standards very similar to the EPA.  Oversight to some, however, may be seen as slightly more relaxed.  This is because while the FDA sets standards that businesses are morally obliged to follow, they are not conducting the same rigorous periodic testing to confirm that manufacturers are following their guidelines.   So in effect, your local public water may be of a higher quality than the expensive bottled water you just purchased. 

Let’s take a look at filtered water.  Perhaps you consider this the equivalent of home bottled water?  Intriguingly however, most home water filters simply claim to remove the same impurities that the EPA may already be testing for, so the benefits may seem small.  So where can they be a benefit?  Perhaps it shouldn’t be understated that home water filters can act as a backup.  If your water supply is contaminated after it leaves the water treatment facility due to poor or corroded piping, it may certainly help.  Also, water treatment facilities are known to chlorinate the water before it is distributed to our homes in order to kill pathogens.  Many filters claim to reduce this additive and consequently, improve the taste.  Still, the EPA’s Office of Water, reports that it “has set standards for 90 chemical, microbiological, radiological, and physical contaminants in drinking water.”  While a study conducted at the University of Arizona in coordination with Good Housekeeping magazine and research institute, contrastingly claims that they feel there may be more contaminants then the government is testing on.  Their self-study of the effectiveness of water filters at removing contaminants appeared to have success rates ranging anywhere from 60-100% per contaminant. 

In concluding, there is no doubt that tap water is the best dollar value.  Without the same rigors, bottled water may really be considered more of a convenience factor and not necessarily any better than our own home tap water.  If you’re still skeptical however, a home water filter may be successful at further reducing the likelihood of contaminants.  Just be careful to replace filters, which can also become breeding grounds for bacteria themselves if not changed frequently.  Fortunately, the EPA states that they are continually conducting research and collecting information to determine, which new contaminants may pose future risks to our population and guidelines are changed accordingly.  In the meantime, they do caution that certain sensitive populations such as infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems may require a greater margin of safety for their drinking water, and as a result it may be advisable to request a copy of your local water report to verify safe levels for yourself.  Cheers, down the hatch!

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