Selected Topic: Water Quality
Water - Bottled or Tap: Is Either Really Safe?
Bottled water sales in the U.S. have soared in recent years, along with rising concerns about the safety of municipal water supplies. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans consumed about 8.3 billion gallons of bottled water in 2006 - about 26 gallons per person - a 10 percent increase over 2005.
Is bottled water really better?
Thanks largely to savvy marketing by the major bottlers, Americans by the thousands continue to purchase bottled water not just for the convenience, but because they believe it's a safer bet than the water from their tap. What many consumers are still unaware of, however, is that those major bottlers have been, shall we say, a little less than forthright about the source(s) of their bottled water.
With Pepsi finally admitting in August 2007 that its popular bottled water brand, Aquafina, comes from a "public source," Pepsi joins the ranks of bottlers Coke (Dasani) and Nestle (Pure Life) who have admitted to selling bottled water that comes straight from a tap.
So what's wrong with that, you might ask? It's true that municipal water supplies in the U.S. are regulated, but bottled water supplies are not as well regulated as municipal supplies, and they have tested neither purer nor safer than most tap water, according to a 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). All three bottlers claim their water is filtered, but if it's basically tap water, do you really want to pay an average of $1.59 for a 20 ounce bottle when you can fill up an empty from your own tap for free?
Not to mention, bottled water is hugely wasteful. It takes 20 million barrels of oil a year to make the bottles just for bottled water, and at least 60 million of those bottles are thrown away each day.
How safe is the water from your tap?
Can you really trust the water coming from your tap? The answer is, it depends on where you live. The water you drink may have tested fine at its source, but because of deteriorating public infrastructure (equipment and pipes) in many municipalities, it may have picked up contaminants along the way, including arsenic, lead, fecal waste, and chemical by-products. According to the NRDC report, 19 U.S. cities have delivered public water that contained contaminant levels beyond Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulated limits.
You get your water from a well - should you be concerned?
According to the group, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), up to 900,000 people get sick and 900 die in the U.S. each year from contaminated public and private drinking water. Whether your tap is fed from a municipal source or from a well, the best way to feel sure about your home water supply is to filter it yourself.
Know what's coming out of your tap - have your water tested
Not all filters eliminate the same contaminants, so before you buy, find out what's in your water so you don't waste money on the wrong kind of filter.
If your water source is a municipal water system, the testing is done for you, by law, at the source. Your water utility is required to mail you a report each year, by July 1, that details where your drinking water comes from, what contaminants have been found in it, and how the contaminant levels compare to the national standard.
If your water supply comes from a private source such as a well, you are not regulated by the federal government and it's up to you to have your water tested, which it's recommended you do annually. Wells can be susceptible to microbial contamination and, even if you don't live near any obvious pollution sources, you should also occasionally test for organic and inorganic contaminants. The best time is late spring, when pesticide run-off levels are at their highest, or any time you notice a change in your water.
For extra security, use a water filter, but make sure it's right for
Once you know what's in your water, you'll need to choose the correct kind of filter for your needs. If your municipal water supply tests within the range recommended by the EPA, you might still need to be concerned with chlorine, a suspected respiratory and neurological toxin, or chloramine (a combination of chlorine and ammonia), a suspected respiratory and blood toxin. These are commonly added to municipal water supplies to kill bacteria and may or may not be listed on your report, but you can find out if they're used with a phone call to your utility. The best filter for both of these toxins is a combination catalytic carbon filter (a regular carbon filter won't block chloramine)/KDF adsorption (not the same thing as absorption). These filters can be found for whole-house systems, as well as for showers and faucets.
Whether your water supply is municipal or private, if it contains other contaminants (particularly those considered to pose serious health risks) that your testing shows exceed EPA recommended levels, you might look at a multi-stage filter that can handle a variety of contaminants. An example of a multi-stage filter is a KDF/carbon adsorption filter plus ultraviolet light. You'll find a number of choices, but your selection should be based on what has proven most effective for the particular contaminants you are dealing with.
Regardless of the contaminants you're dealing with, choose a filter certified by NSF International, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that is considered the world leader in standards development and product certification. The NSF website has a number of informative Water Fact kits as well as a complete listing of NSF certified filters
Sources: CNN.com, CoopAmerica.com, Physicians for Social Responsibility, NSF International
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