03 October 2006

eco blogging tuesday
know your H2O

Water seems so simple, so natural, but, really, we know better. If it was so pristine, there would be no need for Eco-blogging Tuesdays.

Because of the the current ubiquity of bottled water, both community water systems and bottled water manufacturers have been under scrutiny as of late in the attempt to determine which is better—tap water or bottled water? Allow me to distill for you (har har) some of the information about both types of water suppliers.

What's on tap?
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), tap water is better regulated and tested for purity than bottled water. "But your tap water's quality still depends on how well your watershed and aquifers are protected, how effectively water is treated to remove pollutants and the condition of the pipes that bring it into your home," says an article in Natural Home.

To see a water quality report in your municipality, you can go here to find it. The 2005 city of Akron report says "drinking water provided by Akron Public Utilities Bureau meets by a wide margin the current USEPA and OEPA regulatory requirements."

If you find it difficult to parse the water quality reports or are skeptical about them, use this info to make sense of them. It notes that the EPA's standards have certain weaknesses. For instance, some contaminants (radon, many pesticides) are not regulated and may be in your water.

Hitting the bottle
So is bottled water any better for you? The companies that manufacture it would sure have you believe so. "While most of the tested waters [of the NRDC scientific study] were found to be of high quality, some brands were contaminated: about one-third of the waters tested contained levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic -- in at least one sample that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines." Again, bottled water is subject to much less rigorous testing than tap water. For example, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform. Refer to this chart, which shows the contamination levels of the 130 brands tested.

In people's avoidance of tap water, they may be unknowingly consuming it anyway because about 1/4 of bottled water is actually just tap water (e.g. Pepsico's Aquafina brand is treated tap water). The NRDC's biggest point of contention in their extensive study is that bottlers are not held to high enough regulations. This compromises safety and consumer awareness. Indeed, the bottle water industry actively fights against right-to-know requirements for consumers of bottled water. It's in the interest of the corporations—do I need to say that means it's not always in the interest of the people, then?

Giving up the bottle
I am not a proponent of bottled water. Not only for the reasons above, but for the fact that relying on bottled water diminishes resources and creates so much waste. Says the article in Natural Home: "It takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil a year to make enough PET plastic water bottles for ther American market, according to the Earth Policy Institute. Even though PET plastic is recyclable in many locations, about 90 percent of used bottles end up in landfills."

My recommendation is to use a water filter for tap water. NRDC recommends using one that is NSF-certified. Or, if you prefer to buy bottled, purchase one of those five gallon jugs of water, whose source you've researched.

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