Alternative health advocates tell you not to drink tap water, but a tree hugger looks upon someone sipping bottled water with disdain. Many environmentally conscious people tell you that America’s tap water is some of the safest drinking water in the world. Water bottling companies are well known for destructive environmental degradation and abysmal human rights practices, and you may also have heard of the taste test that embarrassed so many of them: Top wine sommeliers voted tap water the third best tasting. In many other taste tests you see that tap water often comes close to or surpasses bottled water in taste.
To make matters worse for the bottled water drinkers, testing of many different brands of bottled water often shows that tap water is just as safe, if not safer (by the standards of the testers). The NRDC conducted a four year review of the bottled water industry and did an independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. They conclude that “…there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle -- sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”
So, is tap water safer then bottled water? It depends on the tap water, and it depends on the bottled water. Some tap water is safer than others. It also depends on what you consider “safe”. In many counties tap water is partly treated sewage water. Tap water, regardless of where it comes from, has been treated with chlorine, a toxic gas used to kill parasites and make water “safe” to drink. Other chemical contaminants and toxic compounds are also likely to be present, from traces of prescription drugs, to fluoride and even lead.1
“The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal,” writes Charles Duhigg, in the New York Times. He goes on to tell us only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is scary considering that the Environmental Working Group has found hundreds of pollutants in the tap water of various suppliers nationwide. 2
If you have high levels of lead in your tap water, chances are it got there by corrosion of the pipes in your home’s plumbing system. But it can also be present as a result of the above mentioned fluorides derived from the manufacturers of fertilizers. These fluoride chemicals are collected from the smokestacks and contain small amounts of lead, arsenic, mercury, and other toxins.6 Lead and mercury contamination is extremely dangerous to our health.
A wide variety of pharmaceuticals from antibiotics to sex hormones can be found in our tap water.7 There are two ways that drugs end up in our tap water: 1) People take drugs, urinate and defecate, flush, and that sewage water goes into a waste treatment plant to be treated and turned back into tap water or to be discharged into reservoirs, rivers, or lakes
EWG obtained test data from various state water authorities over the past three years. Their analysis shows significant differences from one municipal water supplier to another. Top rated water utilities in Arlington, TX, Providence, RI, and Fort Worth, TX test for more chemicals than are required by the federal government. Other utilities such as the ones at Pensacola, FL, Riverside, CA, and Las Vegas, NV report pollutant levels exceeding guidelines set forth by the federal government.8
It depends on the brand. If you’re not concerned with human rights or PCBs, then brands like Fiji are just what you’re looking for.
In the United States, Dasani, owned by Coca-Cola, is tap water from local municipal water supplies. According to Wikipedia, Coca-Cola filters it using reverse osmosis then adds trace amounts of minerals, including potassium chloride, which just happens to be the chemical used to stop someone’s heart with lethal injections. Before you panic, potassium chloride is also used to supplement people’s diet with potassium, though it’s likely safer to get your potassium from tropical fruit.
Is Dasani safe? Dasani bottling plants operate on different water sources, using different equipment. Since Dasani is simply purified tap water marked up around 300,000%, the water is only as safe as the source and the filtering process. In the UK in March of 2004, Dasani water was contaminated with cancer causing bromate. Coca-Cola had to pull back 500,000 bottles,
Despite the image on the label of snow capped mountains, insinuating Aquafina water comes from a pure, beautiful glacier, Aquafini, like Dasani, is tap water. PepsiCo, owner of Aquafini, admitted this only after Corporate Accountability International (a non-profit organization that helps protect consumers from corporate abuse) put pressure on PepsiCo to disclose their water source.
“CAI rallied consumers from around the
We couldn’t find anything negative about Evian besides the fact that it comes in a plastic bottle and is shipped half way around the world to reach the United States. Evian is sourced from near the Évian-les-Bains. If you have to drink water from a plastic bottle, this is likely to be some of the healthiest water by a company that appears to have a fairly clean record when it comes to the environment and the community near the water source.
In 2004, Fiji received an award for corporate
Nestlé is the world’s largest food and beverage companies with seventy different brand names including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, and Zephyrhills. Nestlé has had some negative press regarding human rights issues with many of their brands, especially those dealing with chocolate, tea, and coffee. Their recent commitment to purchasing fair trade chocolate for their candy lines was dubbed by many of the eco conscious to be “fair-washing”. They also stirred much controversy for marketing their baby formula as a healthier substitute for breast milk in developing countries.
Nestlé’s press regarding their bottled water practices fair no better. Nestlé bottles spring water around the world and pumps so much water so fast that they more often than not have negative and damaging impact on the communities living by the springs. Complaints range from not having proper consent12 to strong arming their way into communities and paying little or no fees in order to remove more water than the spring could replenish, leaving water sources high and dry.
While bottled water standards are lax compared to tap water laws, both areas leave much to be desired. If it weren’t for the carbon footprint,