Water on Tap
It seems that every person you look at in today’s world has a bottle of water with them. Besides the convenience of it, many people drink bottled water because they believe it is safer than their tap water. This misconception is caused by bottled water companies advertising their water as “clean and pure.” Which in return sends the message that the water coming out of our tap is not “clean” or “pure” enough for us to drink. Unfortunately, many consumers are not educated about the loose regulations surrounding the water going into the bottles. For the majority of the United States population, our home’s tap water is actually safer for consumption compared to bottled water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets safe drinking water standards for both tap and bottled water. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of bottled water and has the option to adopt these standards for safe levels of contaminates or ignore them. According to Sara Goodman, the New York Times author of “Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, GAO Says,” “The Safe Drinking Water Act empowers EPA to require water testing by certified laboratories and that violations be reported within a specified time frame.” Municipal water systems (tap water) must also provide annual reports to the consumers including the source of the water and evidence of any contaminates. Bottled water does not provide any information involving contaminates or the source of the water on the labeling of the bottle. The most that can be found on the labeling is a customer service phone number for the brand and the location of where the water was bottled and packaged. John Stephenson, the Director of Natural Resources and Environment for the United States Government Accountability Office, claims, “The FDA does not have the specific statutory authority to require bottlers to use certified laboratories for water quality tests or to report test results, even if violations of the standards are found.” With that being said, bottled water can not be trusted even though the Food and Drug Administration has set standards for the bottled water because those standards are worthless if the bottled water brand is using an uncertified laboratory to test the quality of the water. Those laboratories are uncertified for some reason; I’m sure they would have no problem getting paid a little extra to produce an illegitimate water quality report for a company to submit to the Food and Drug Administration.
Another reason why tap water is safer to drink compared to bottled water is the fact that tap water does not contain a harmful chemical known as DEHP. DEHP is the most common member of the class of phthalates. According to Stephenson, “Phthalates are a class of chemical compounds primarily used as a plasticizer added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity and found in a variety of food containers and packaging.” This chemical compound can seep into the water inside plastic bottles over time and cause negative effects on children. Lina Huerta-Saenz, the author of “Tap or Bottled Water: Drinking Preferences Among Urban Minority Children and Adolescents,” claims that, “Data suggests an endocrine and developmental toxic effect from DEHP on growing children.” Also, there are no laws restricting the use of this toxic chemical in bottled water. Andrew Postman, a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the author of “The Truth About Tap,” informs us that, “Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water; the bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.” A highly possible reason why there are no laws limiting the use of this chemical in bottled water is the fact that bottled water is classified as a “food.” According to Stephenson, “Rather, the FFDCA requires the FDA to regulate bottled water as a food.” If laws were put in place to limit DEHP in plastic bottles, it would effect basically every kind of packaged food to some degree. I’m sure it would cost more money than packaged food companies are willing to spend if they had to redesign their packaging to avoid plasticizers like DEHP. So instead of food companies spending a little extra money, the American children will have to pay by having potential endocrine and developmental issues which will effect them for the rest of their lives.
An additional plus for tap water is that most communities add fluoride to their water to help prevent tooth decay. Huerta-Saenz states that, “Fluoridation of community water has proven highly effective in reducing tooth decay by providing both a topical and systemic source of fluoride.” Bottled water companies are not required to list the natural fluoride content of their water, but are required to list fluoride additives. According to Huerta-Saenz, “It is estimated that less than one percent of brands of bottled water have added fluoride to their product.” Keeping all this in-mind, it is very easy to come to the conclusion that increased consumption of bottled water can have the potential to lead to higher rates of tooth decay in children.
For the people with private wells, such as myself, the safety of our tap water is in our own hands. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends our water be tested annually to ensure it is safe to drink. Specifically, testing for nitrates and coliform bacteria, checking with the local health department for information on possible ground contaminates in the area, and purchasing an applicable home water treatment system based on these results is the best way to ensure safe drinking water from a private well.
To really seal the deal that tap water is safer to drink, here a few more “fun facts” about tap water versus bottled water. It is important to keep in mind that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap water. According to Postman, “Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardiasis viruses. Bottled water does not have to be.” Postman lets us in on another a little secret that, “Bottled water plants must test for coliform bacteria just once a week; city tap needs to be tested 100 or more times a month.” I guess that bottled water isn’t so “clean and pure” after all.
Goodman, S. (2009, July 09). Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, GAO Says. Retrieved from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/07/09/09greenwire-fewer-regulations-for-bottled-water-than-tap-g-33331.html
Huerta-Saenz, L., Irigoyen, M., Benavides, J., & Mendoza, M. (2011, June 04). Tap or Bottled Water: Drinking Preferences Among Urban Minority Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-011-9415-1
Office, U. G., & Stephenson, J. (2009, July 07). Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-610