Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bottled Water, Tap Water

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a packaged food under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and has established standards for testing bottled water that are not as stringent as the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards, though derived from the SDWA. The FDA requires using an approved source of water, but without a definition of what an approved source of water is.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates public drinking water supplies under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The actual safety of the water depends on the effective operation and compliance of the public water utility and the condition of the water distribution system. Though a large number of Americans believe that bottled water is safer than tap water “almost 64% of bottled water sold in the United States is filtered tap water.” (Consumer Reports November 2019 page 38.) The rest of the bottled water in the United States comes from Artesian wells, mineral well water, spring water, well water, or is imported (Fiji Water actually comes from an Artesian well in Fiji. How insane is it to ship water the United States from the South Pacific?)

The safest and most consistent source water is still a protected groundwater aquifer with a confining geological layer. That is why there are safe private wells that do not require treatment. When used as the source of the bottled water a protected groundwater aquifer can provide very good quality water with consistent taste. Surface water sources, such as lakes, streams and rivers are open to contamination from animals, and runoff. Surface water needs to be treated to disinfect and purify the water. The safest bottled water is either from a regulated and municipal supply that has been treated to meet SDWA standards and then is filtered or that comes from a protected groundwater aquifer or spring. In our modern world groundwater aquifers are potentially vulnerable to a wide range of man-made and naturally occurring contaminants, including many that are not regulated in drinking water under the SDWA, or by the FDA for bottled water.

Man people say they prefer bottled water because of its taste. The taste of all water has to do with the way it is treated and the quality of its source water, including its natural mineral content. One of the key taste differences between tap water and bottled water is due to the residual taste from disinfection and impurities built up in the distribution system. The bottled water industry bypasses the aging distribution systems of our cities and filters out disinfection residuals or uses ozone or ultraviolet light to disinfect the water leaving no residual taste. Americans drink 12-13 billion gallons of bottled water each year at a cost of $31 billion. If you filled a reusable glass or stainless steel container with filtered tap water, that same water would cost around $15 million.

Filtering your tap water and using your own stainless steel bottle saves money. Filtering can improve the taste and purity of tap water. Reusable bottles help shrink the global glut of discarded plastic bottles. According to the EPA, less than a third of PET plastic bottles are recycled, the rest end up in landfills, along roadways (I have seen people just toss plastic bottles out car windows), and polluting our streams and rivers adding to the mass of plastic pollution overtaking the planet. Since the beginning of the 20th century mankind has made an estimated 8,300 million metric tons of plastic.

Instead of spending money on bottles of water you should be fighting to maintain and improve our public water supplies in our communities. If your home’s water comes from a public water system, the best way to learn more about your water quality is to read your water supplier’s annual water quality report which should be sent to you annually. If your water comes from a private drinking water well, you need to know the condition of the groundwater that supplies your well. EPA recommends testing the water regularly for bacteria, nitrates, and other contaminants. The Virginia Rural Household Water Quality Program recommends that ever three years you test your well for at least coliform bacteria, E coli, pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, and other contaminants of local concern.

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