Friday, 10 July 2009

I drink tap water... and I'm okay.

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

A few weeks ago I went to Sydney for the weekend to celebrate my Dad's birthday. On the way there, I passed the turn off to a little town called Bundanoon. Now I've passed by this town so many times in the two decade or so that I've lived in this part of Australia. Not once have I ever considered stopping by until recently...

A few days ago, Bundanoon became the first town in Australia (and perhaps the world?) who have banned the sale of bottled water.

I have to admit, the bottled water phenomenon has been a puzzling one for me. I remember growing up as a child here in Australia and happily drinking from bubblers (water fountains) and taps in the park. While I admit that these days, we now see more and more public taps connected on to grey water (and with appropriate signs saying so), I still don't get why people regularly buy bottled water.

Now I admit to buying the odd bottle now and then when I can't see a public tap around and my water bottle is empty. I think though, the time when I realised that bottled water was a norm was when I was filling up my daughter's water bottle (then she was 2 years old) at a public tap. I heard a gasp from another person and she very concernedly asked me "are you giving her water from that tap?!"

Me: "erm, yes."
Other person" "but its dangerous!"
Me: "But why? Its the same water that comes out of our tap at home."
Other person: "You mean you drink from your tap at home too?!!"
Me: "erm, yes."
Other person: "but its dangerous!"
Me: "since when?"

And I've never really received a clear answer to that one. Searching through the internet, I find loads of information for and against bottled water. (I will provide links of those I consider better sources at the bottom of this article.)

However, the one thing that convinces me that tap water is safe to drink (aside from the fact that I've been drinking it now for almost 30 years without any side effects) is that I have actually *seen* unsafe tap water.

I was born in a third world country. I have since visited other third world countries. I have seen what inadequate sewage and water treatment can do to water supplies. The water is literally polluted to the point that it is undrinkable. The smell arising from this untreated water is enough to turn your stomach, let alone try drinking it.

According to the WHO, about 1.1 billion people do not have access to drinkable water. As a direct consequence:
  • 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
  • 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
  • intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.

Given those statistics, the arguments against tap water, here in Australia seem...well.... a bit "precious". I think we are lucky to have access to drinkable water that meets appropriate standards and are regularly tested.

And even one doesn't agree with the standards, there are also a lot more green alternatives to buying bottled water. The most obvious one is to have water filtration at home.

Anyway, I won't belabour the point. :) I'm just proud that a small country town near my city has banned the sale of bottled water. I will certainly be visiting that town in the next few weeks or so, just so I can show my support...and drink from the public water fountains like the rest of its residents. :)

**Note that I am talking of tap water available to most Australian cities - I know that there will always be exceptions.

Arguments For Bottled Water

Australian Bottled Water Institute (includes the Australian standards for Bottled Water)

Arguments Against Bottled Water

Choice Magazine - while trying to be neutral, article comes to the conclusion that bottled water is not safer but it is 'convenient' when out and about.

Kindred Media - compares Australian standards for tap water and bottled water

Market Watch - compares US Standards for tap water and bottled water

Environmental Working Group - Bottled Water Scorecard

Which - discusses UK consumption of bottled water and at the end of the article provides water FAQs


Hilde said...

At least here in Germany, tap water is the "food" which is tested most frequently. And when I see water in plastic bottles, stored in the sun or in not so clean places, while on the label it says clearly "store in a cool, dry, clean place", I wonder what ther is in those bottles besides H2O. When I absolutely have to buy bottled water, I always look for glass bottles.

Barbara said...

I never buy bottled water and
if you can say that in Adelaide
(which is notorious for the
worst tap water in Australia)
then no one has any excuse
anywhere else!

Toria said...

Maybe those women saying tap water is unsafe were remembering the giardia & cryptosperidium (sp???) outbreaks that we've had occasionally. I know they are not the norm, but perhaps those women are just remembering the warnings without remembering why. It was recommended to not drink the Sydney water without pre-boiling at the time.

I was relieved to read in later articles on the Bundanoon ban that they are intending to install a couple of water fountains in town, that is a practical move that more towns will hopefully follow.

sensiblevermonter said...

I can honestly tell you, and everyone reading this that tap water is MORE safe to drink thank bottled water. How?

I work at a water testing laboratory.

The amount of testing and regulations required for the water that comes out of your tap would impress you. Towns and cities are required to meet EPA approved criteria while providing all tax payers access to all data on what is in their water. Bottled water? It falls under the jurisdiction on the FDA and is not held to the same standards as your tap water. In response to Helde, I can only imagine the bacteria loads of normal flora that, while normally don't effect you, in overwhelming quantities can mess with your digestion system, along with all other contaminants they have. And surprise, atleast 25% of bottled water IS tap water. I could rant forever, but take it from me, you are typically MUCH safer drinking your tap water.

CAM said...

I must admit the bottled water phenomenon is hilarious but I don't allow my daughter to share water containers or drink from public fountains, not because I'm worried about the water but we were told on a course that hepatitis and other orally transmittable nasties are often found on communal drinking surfaces (a lot of schools ripped out their drinking fountains in repsonse to this). I'd prefer she have her own bottle but I only buy a bottle if we forgot to bring our own water a shortage of container rather than water!

Deanna said...

Here in the States, in Mississippi, I don't use the tap for much. We tried the filter on the house and were having to replace a so-called 3mo filter every 4th week or sooner, depending on usage.
Running a bath or sink for dishes, the chlorine smell is very very strong.
We get the bulk of our water from a natural spring, and I refill our containers every week there. I know -- I'd drink water out of the ground and not our tap -- seems strange :o) but if there is that much chlorine in my tap, I'd rather take my chances from the ground.
Recently we received a notice the community water system did not test for Lead/Copper or VOCS last year -- required testing by Law and The EPA. Seems to me if they "forget" testing once, chances are they have before. Could be why they super chlorinate the water.

I do miss the carefree life of drinking water wherever, whenever ;o)


Tameson said...

I'm spoiled. The water that comes out of my well is much better than anything one can find in a bottle. I hope I never have to move.

linda said...

Not only is bottled water just tap water, some companies put sodium in the water which ends up making you thirsty. We saw an expose on this on television not long ago. Most of the bottle water companies are owned by soft drink companies as well.
My son did a school science project on the safety of bottled water a few years ago. It isn't guaranteed to be safe and getting the actual test results was like pulling teeth for us. He got low marks for lack of evidence but it wasn't his fault so much as the companies do not willingly hand out the test results. At the time the tests were performed in house and not independently. That says a great deal.

erin said...

Tap water standards are far stricter than those for bottled water here in the U.S. My whole family drinks tap water and we are all healthy. Bottled water is just another thing for people to consume and waste their money on.

Kathryn said...

Um, chlorine, fluoride, & a ton of other chemicals. And tap water straight just tastes bad.

We filter our water at home for shower & cooking. We buy large bottles of reverse osmosis for drinking (at 25 cents a gallon i think it is a bargain). I have glass bottles that we fill to take with us, & we rarely buy bottled water.

Bottled water is not so good for all the reasons already listed in the other comments. But straight tap water? Yuck. (At least here in California.)

Margaret said...

I live on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada and we have some of the best water in the world and still people buy bottled water by the crate. I just don't get it. The water from the tap is fresh, clean and good and if you like your water ice cold, plunk an ice cube into your glass!

Sharon said...

Our tap water also has a lot of chlorine in it which is supposed to be bad for us. But, whatever the drs name is at, says that if you let a pitcher of water wet out over night, the chemicals evaporate and it's then perfectly healthy.

Pat aka Posh said...

I live in the USA always drink tap water and fill my own bottles with it for any trips I take... I've reached the ripe old age of nearly 67 and it hasn't killed me yet.. I even drink well and spring water when I'm visiting our property in the country.
I did hear on the news that San Francisco California has banned bottled water because of all the plastic bottles going into the land fills.

Kika said...

We filter water at home and each have stainless steel bottles. But these do not suffice when we're travelling. Also, my husband works in a public school where, lately, the fountains have been shut down due to outbreaks of illness. Ick! Next summer we want to travel across the country (Canada) and are not sure how to haul enough water to refill our bottles along the way.

Annodear said...

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area "Delta" region. We get out water fairly directly from the Delta, but it tastes crappy. Oh, it's fine in coffee or tea, but I drink a lot of water, and drinking it "straight" just doesn't work for me.

So for drinking water, we refill our big, 5 gallon jugs at the grocery store -or- at a little 'water' place, and both places filter 'city' water. It makes it much more pleasant for us, but we're not producing tons of plastic waste.

Also, just in case anyone's interested... we keep the 5 gallon bottle at room temperature, inverted into a ceramic crock with a nozzle, but refill recycled milk gallon containers to keep in the fridge so cold water is always at arm's length.

Audrey said...

I grew up in the country (western KY, to be exact) and we had well water. It was the freshest coldest best-tasting water I've ever drank. We kept a big jug in the fridge and just refilled it from the tap each time it was empty. We live inside city limits now, so our water comes from the city pipes. We use one of those Brita water filters -- we have the big jug one in our fridge. We just refill it from the tap. The water does taste different after being filtered -- some of the funny "tastes" associated with city water are gone. Plus, with the Brita pitcher, all we ever have to replace are the filters every 3-4 months. It works for us.

5dollarsaday said...

The Dean of the School of Public Health where I work sent us all an email recommending that we drink tap water instead of bottled. While i suspect that he is more interested in our budget than our bottles, I can't think of a reason not to drink water from the tap so I stay away from the bottle water unless I really want something cold.

pmhewitt said...

i agree that the idea of bottled water is ludicrous - especially when it is used in lieu of tap water as an everyday purchase. however if stuck buying drinks when we are out(we usually take bottles of tap water from home, but...) i would rather buy a bottle of water than a can of soft-drink (soda). they should be banned too :) this is my sticking point - bottled water gives the choice not to buy a junky sugar laden option.

Pip at Rest is not idleness said...

Tap water for me, after all you are already paying for it in your water rates, why waste money buying something you are already paying for. Like Barbara, I live in Adelaide, there is nothing wrong with our tap water here, I've tasted worse in other cities.

Anonymous said...

Since I never drink carbonated, sweet drinks it has been good to be able to buy a drink once or twice a year.

Rinelle said...

I'm afraid that I'm one of those that will choose bottled water over tap water any day. And what's worse, I won't even shower or bathe in tap water either. Part of our reason for moving to our current location was so that we could have rain water tanks, which we use exclusively instead of tap water.

I realise that chlorine is a necessary evil in any large scale water treatment, but the amount in our water will kill a fish if you put it in the water. I'm not drinking water that a fish can't live in. On top of that, showering in chlorinated water for years gave me chronic acne, which has almost completely cleared up since moving to rain water. As if that wasn't enough, exposure to chlorine gives my DH migraines, and I know also my aunt gets eczema, so many people have reactions to the chlorine too (and probably aren't even aware of what is causing these reactions.)

Chlorine though, at least can be filtered out. Fluoride can't. Having done research on it, given the amount of fluoride in our water, if you drink 2 litres a day (the recommended amount), you will get over the recommended safe levels of fluoride in your system. And sadly, fluoride can also be absorbed through the skin, so that is giving you extra.

For some people, drinking tap water may have no effect on them, but for some of us, it really does have noticable negative effects.

This isn't that I don't agree that the waste involved in bottled water is a bad thing. I almost never buy it myself. We carry rain water from home in recycled glass bottles everywhere we go. But I do like to know that I have an alternative on the rare times I am caught out without my own water.

I also feel that the removal of bottled water from sale will lead to people feeding their children juice and rubbish soft drinks instead, which isn't really a good outcome either.


I work in the domestic water trade in California. Tap water is much, much safer than bottled water.

This and That said...

I am almost 50 and have been drinking tab water and a lot of it every day. It amazes me the money machine a bottle of water has become. I do buy bottled water when I am out and about without any water to drink but I see people at work with their case of water under their desks and so on.. I just drink from the tap and get odd looks.

Long ago I thought maybe there might be a good reason. With bottle in hand I read the label and it was "processed" water.. and I figured if they could filter water, so could I. In fact I do have a Brita water system at home but it is in a box somewhere.. I drink from the tab :)

bks said...

The Environmental Working Group just posted research on bottled water:

Their conclusion: Bottled Water is less regulated than tap... and not worth the environmental impact...

eag said...

Go Bundanoon!!!!We could all in Oz be drinking our own water if we installed tanks and saved the River Murray.

shelle said...

I grew up in Milwaukee, WI and remember the cryptosporidium crisis that was in spread by poorly treated tap water and the lingering illness it caused many people. At the time I was a bottled spring water drinker and do not regret it. I had a hard time trusting tap water even filtered for years. Today, I drink filtered tap water and do my part to not buy any disposable plastic bottles.

Hana said...

I'm from the Czech Republic and I can relate to Hilde and others who say tap water is monitored and safe... It, of course, varies depending on where you live, sometimes it doesn't taste so good, but I drink tap water all the time, most of my life, and I'm not changing it.

Eilleen said...

Thank you all for sharing your experiences here!

Firstly, apologies that I didn't include any European sources in my arguments for and against bottled water! I truly did not realise we had so many people from Europe read this blog.

So a huge thank you to everyone from Europe for commenting and making up for the gap in my post.

BKS - I have added your link into the post. THANK YOU!

Sharon F said...

What an interesting topic. I saw that item on TV too and it really got me thinking. I agree that getting all of your water as bottled is utterly ridiculous not to mention wasteful when the tap water is perfectly safe to drink, however it is undeniable that water is far preferable to soft drink as far as health is concerned. I for one don't tend to take water with me when I'm out and often buy water for myself and my daughter (she becomes uncontrolable when she has soft drink or even juice). I would miss having the choice of a healthy drink when I'm out.

I wonder if they increased the price by $1 and refunded it when the bottle was returned for recycling at the place of purchase like they used to many years ago with glass bottles if we would see a lot fewer water bottles in land fill.

Joanne said...

There was a commotion here a while back when a public event (cycling or triathlon or something) banned the sale of bottled water. Some thought it hypocritical because they still sold 'sports' and soft drinks in plastic bottles.
We drink ceramic/charcoal filtered water at home and our kids take that water to school in reusable bottles. I have a BIG problem with drinking fountains after some of the stories my kids have brought home about them. Bubblers are from the dark ages!! I'm sure the teachers wouldn't drink out of them.
Flouride has just been introduced to our town's supply, against the wishes of many. Some people suffer reactions from flouride and reverse osmosis is an expensive option so I hope those people will be able to obtain alternative water. I'm against forced medication but I will have to live with it now. I don't think collecting rainwater is a safe option for drinking because of pollution in the air and things breeding in the tank.

daharja said...

I drink tap water, as do the rest of my family, and it's just fine.

As from 2 August 2009, tap water will be ALL I'll be drinking with my Water Challenge :-) Nothing but tap water for a year!

I think quitting the beer at pub after choir will be the hardest...everyone will be having beer and wine, and I'll be having water. I guess I'll save some money though :-)

If anyone would like to try the Challenge with me, click on the above link and add a comment at my blog saying you're up for the challenge. It would be lovely to have some other people giving it a go with me!