Tap Water Fears

In Part I, we started to take a look at the misconceptions most consumers have about the difference between tap water and bottled water. We also offered some eye opening statistics about the bottled water industry in the U.S.

Facts such as:

-U.S. Consumers purchase over 500,000,000 (that’s half a BILLION) bottles of water every single week.

-Bottled water, costs on average, 2000 times more than the water coming out of your own tap.

-1/3 of all bottled water sold in the U.S. is simply REPACKAGED TAP WATER.

In this article, I’d like to help clear up some of the misconceptions about tap water. I’d also like to explain why there’s a VERY good chance that what is coming out of your faucet might be just as safe, if not safer, than what you’ve been buying from the store every single week.

An Industry is Born

At some point over the last 30+ years, the bottled water industry exploded.

According to sources like Klean Kanteen; in 1976, the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water a year. In 2007, that number had increased to an average of 28.3 gallons per person.

Almost overnight, plastic containers of drinking water began filling store shelves across the country faster than a consumer could say “spring water.”

Beautiful pictures of ice bergs and crystal clear mountain streams began adorning bottled water labels, implying that those products came from sources as pure, pristine and untouched as the driven snow.

The bulk of the general public decided, somewhere along the way, that if they purchased a bottle of water from their local grocery store or convenience store, then it HAD to be good for them.

Marketing is a VERY powerful thing!

But rather than focusing too much on how or when this shift in public perception took place, I’d like to take a look at some very important facts and misconceptions about just how these two industries (public water and bottled water) are regulated.

It might surprise you to learn just how little anyone actually knows about that “spring water” you just purchased at the store.

What’s in That Water?

In a 2009 article in The New York Times, Sarah Goodman of Greenwire

explains that bottled water manufacturers are required to disclose far less information about the quality, treatment methods or source of their products, than local Municipal Water Utilities have to.

The reasons? There are 2 very important ones:

    1. The EPA is in charge of regulating the safety, testing and reporting of all public water systems. It also requires those public Municipal Water Utilities to disclose the sources of any water distributed to its customers.
    2. The FDA is in charge overseeing the bottled water industry. The FDA lacks the same power and oversight authority as the EPA, and basically has no ability to require bottled water manufacturers to abide by ANY of the same safety guidelines required by public water utilities.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act empowers EPA to require water testing by certified laboratories (for public water) 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”, says Goodman.

Now let’s look at the other side of the water fence.

In very stark contrast, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contains.”

Let me repeat that last part. It bears repeating.

The FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose
what contaminants their water contains.

Now, I make no claim at being the sharpest crayon in the pack when it comes to running a large multi-million dollar company, but common sense begs me to ask this question:

If I am a company and I’m not required to go out and tell the general public (my potential customers) about all of my products flaws and potential safety issues, do you really think I’m ever going to do so?

No worries about answering…the question is rhetorical.

Kitchen Faucet Looking Better by the Second

So let’s assume at this point you’re starting to question both the quality and source of the bottled water you’ve been purchasing for your family.

Good. You’re right on track.

In addition, hopefully at this point you’re beginning to have a very different view of what’s coming out of your kitchen’s faucet – or at minimum, you’re far more curious about what is.

Also great! Let me see if I can help you with that.

If Your Water Comes from a Public Supply

As mentioned above, the testing , safety and source verification of your water has already been done for you! All you need to do is contact your local town or water municipality and request a copy of your water’s safety and source report.

This information may actually be online and available to you with a few simple clicks.There should be little to no surprises with the reports.

Remember, municipalities are required by law to perform frequent safety testing of your water and to follow the EPA safety recommendations and maximum contamination limits (MCLs) for all public water supplies.

If Your Water Comes from a Well

As of now, privately owned wells are not required by law to follow the same EPA testing regulations, required of public water supplies.

This is your responsibility as a homeowner.

If you’ve purchased your home within the last 10 years there’s a fair chance that several water safety tests were performed by your home inspector at the time of the purchase. You may already have the testing results in your purchase & sale agreement, even if you aren’t aware of it.

If you can’t find the lab reports, try contacting your home inspector or Realtor. They will most likely have the information on file, if the tests were performed.

If you Haven’t  had your Water Tested

Again, no worries. Testing is simple to do yourself and usually fairly inexpensive (especially compared to purchasing bottled water).

The easiest thing to do is to go to your state’s .gov website or do an online search for local State Certified Water Testing Laboratories.

You will most likely want to start with what is usually referred to as a mortgage test. This test generally includes many important safety checks including Arsenic and Coliform Bacteria. This test typically costs around $75.

For more on contaminants to test your water for, check out Water Testing | Why you Need it.

My Water is Safe, but it Tastes Bad!

If your water is tested to be safe and healthy, but you simply don’t care for how it tastes or smells, there are many simple alternatives available to fix the problem.

In our last home, my wife and I had extremely healthy water. We tested our water for all of the safety issues common to New England homes. Everything passed with flying colors.

Only one problem: It tasted bad! Our water supply happened to be high in Chlorides – not high enough to be a health concern, but high enough to make it tasted very odd.

My wife made absolute sure she regularly reminded me of this fact until I did something about it. I could only squirm out of this one for just so long, since your author, yours truly, happens to work in the water treatment business!

The solution was simple. We put in an under-counter reverse osmosis system. Problem solved. Water tasted phenomenal. My wife was happy.

And we’re still married today!

For information on reverse osmosis and other simple home water improvement alternatives read What the Bottled Water Industry Doesn’t Tell You

Eco-Ugliness of Bottled Water

Although the focus of this particular article really wasn’t to go into the environmental downsides of bottled water, I do feel strongly about at least making mention of it.

Some cold hard “Un-Green” facts about bottled water 

  • People in the U.S. buy more than half a BILLION bottles of water every week! Enough to circle the globe twice.
  • Americans throw out 38 billion empty water bottles a year, more than $1 billion worth of plastic.
  • Plastic is made from petroleum. Making the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. in one year takes enough oil and energy to fuel a million cars.
  • In the U.S. alone, more than 24 billion pounds of plastic packaging is produced every year. Most of that packaging is designed for single-usage, meaning it’s designed to be thrown out as soon as that package is opened.
  • 80% of the single-use plastic bottles from bottled water consumed in the U.S. end up in landfills.

Source: Klean Kanteen

For more information on the environmental impacts of bottled water, as well as the personal health effects of plastic bottles, check out What the Bottled Water Industry Doesn’t Tell You.