Series: “Does your tap water scare you?”

I want to give you a little background before I jump right into this series. First of all, as I have mentioned before, I work for my city’s NELAC accredited laboratory. We test many samples, some of which are tap water samples. I also collect tap water samples on a regular basis for routine testing. I consider myself knowledgable about tap water (particularly Reverse Osmosis  (RO) water because that is the type of facility that we have). I do not, however, consider myself all-knowing so I will be doing quite a bit of research on this subject. (I have been working on this series for a while now.)

I felt compelled to write this series because I was surprised by how many people out there know almost NOTHING about the water they are drinking. Many people tend to ‘bash’ their water or just assume that it is bad water because ‘all city water is bad’. My goal is to help you learn about your water and the ways to know whether your water is ‘good’.

One thing that got me started on creating this series was a conversation I had with my father-in-law in Florida. He is a very smart guy and after asking him a few questions about the water in his town I felt pretty sure I knew what was going on at their Water Treatment Plant. Turns out I didn’t. Not because he is unusual (as I said before, very few people know what is going on with their water), he just assumed they used surface water because of how close they were to the ocean. Turns out, they use groundwater and RO it. This may not seem like a big difference, but it can be. (That I will talk about in another post).

Anyway, in this post I would like to talk to you about bottled water.

Why?

Because there is a good chance that you are actually better off drinking your tap water. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. I will present you with the information that I have, but you need to apply it to your location.

Location?

Yes. Because not only do treatment facilities differ by location but so do the pollutants that you need to be concerned about. How do you know what is a concern for your location? Well, check back here because I have a blog post about this coming up. Knowledge is power no?

Back to the point: Bottled water.

A lot of people believe that bottled water is better for you than tap. Or at the very least that it is ‘cleaner’ than the water from your tap. However, in 2009 almost 50% of all bottled water came from city tap. Why is this a big deal? Well, not only are you getting ripped off by paying lots more for something that you could have got from your tap, but this also is threatening the publics water resources and putting strain on water treatment facilities that are tax payer funded.

Now, for the water that isn’t bottled using municipal water: As many of you know, all water is regulated.

But is it all regulated the same?

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA. Tap water is regulated by the EPA. But what is the difference?

Basically it comes down to the fact that FDA lacks the regulatory authority of EPA.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act empowers EPA to require water testing by certified laboratories and that violations be reported within a specified time frame. Public water systems must also provide reports to customers about their water, noting its source, evidence of contaminants and compliance with regulations.”

Sara Goodman, New York Times

However, the FDA does not. Because they regulate bottled water as a food they cannot require the company to verify results with a certified lab or report violations to the public in a timely manner. They also do not have to tell you where they got the water or how they treated it. In addition, Water Treatment Plants are inspected on a more regular basis than water bottling facilities. And, when it comes right down to it the regulations for tap water are more stringent in a number of cases than bottled water, but they are getting closer and closer to being the same.

So, what am I really trying to say? In the end, you will save a lot of money using your tap water in a reusable container than carrying around a plastic bottle of water. But, what should you do before switching? Learn about your tap water and the tap water of the place that the water bottling company is pulling from. Chances are, the quality will be the same (or pretty darn close!) How do you do this? Well, that is a whole other post!

Sources:

Food and Water Watch
Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, New York Times article
United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requesters

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6 thoughts on “Series: “Does your tap water scare you?”

  1. I’m so glad you’re posting on this subject! I know I have a lot to learn, but have been wondering for some time if I should get our water tested, but am afraid of the chromium results- and the resulting expense of treatment. Maybe it’s just me being paranoid, but I haven’t heard anything good about it. I can’t wait to read more.

    1. Chromium-6 is a real hot topic right now. I am planning to cover it more in depth in the blog post about contaminates and how they are dealt with. However, I am interested what made you worried about this? Did you hear it on the news? (EPA is currently reviewing chromium and may change the limits it has set on it, we’ll know by the end of this year). Or was your municipality required to report a violation of chromium?

      Also, do you know if your system pulls from ground water or from surface water? That will make a big difference. Do you have a steel or pulp mill close by? Chromium can be deposited from those factories.

      If you are truly concerned and don’t know how to get this information, please e-mail me (cheminclined@yahoo.com) and I can work with you to find it. Then later you will be able to read about in a blog post too for reference!

  2. Pingback: Series: “How Do I Know What is In My Water?” « Chemically Inclined

  3. Pingback: Series: “Where’s my Water coming from?” « Chemically Inclined

  4. Pingback: Series: How do they clean my water? « Chemically Inclined

  5. Pingback: Series: Please stop complaining about your water! « Chemically Inclined

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