Tap or Bottled Water? Which is Best for Your Health?

Should you drink tap or bottled water? No one REALLY knows and there are many wars on this front. Thousands of chemicals are invented yearly that are outside the archaic water protection acts passed in many countries. Those chemicals can leak into the groundwater from waste sites, agricultural fields, golf courses etc. Once it’s in the groundwater it can flow into the streams that lead into the reservoirs which lead directly to your faucets.

When I lived in NYC, a friend of mine told me that the NY state government was quietly trying to buy up business rights to lands bordering the streams leading into the city’s reservoirs in upstate NY. Why? In order to curtail the number of chemicals in toxins that are on the rise in NYC’s drinking water. I was so scared by this that I immediately put filters on all my taps – including my shower, bath and kitchen sinks.

Can chlorine kill chemicals? And how much chlorine is too bad for you? Chlorine is a highly efficient disinfectant, and it is added to public water supplies to kill disease-causing bacteria that the water or its transport pipes might contain. Chlorine has been hailed as the savior against cholera and various other water-borne diseases. It may help with bacteria but it is unlikely to help with chemicals.

Chlorine introduced into the water supply reacts with other naturally-occurring elements to form toxins called trihalomethanes (THMs), which eventually make their way into our bodies. THMs have been linked to a wide range of human health maladies ranging from asthma and eczema to bladder cancer and heart disease. In addition, Dr. Peter Montague of the Environmental Research Foundation cites several studies linking moderate to heavy consumption of chlorinated tap water by pregnant women with higher miscarriage and birth defect rates.

A recent report by the non-profit Environmental Working Group concluded that from 1996 through 2001, more than 16 million Americans consumed dangerous amounts of contaminated tap water. The report found that water supplies in and around Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and the Bay Area in California were putting the greatest number of people at risk, although 1,100 other smaller water systems across the country also tested positive for high levels of contaminants.

“Dirty water going into the treatment plant means water contaminated with chlorination by-products coming out of your tap,” said Jane Houlihan, EWG’s Research Director. “The solution is to clean up our lakes, rivers and streams, not just bombard our water supplies with chlorine.”

Alternatives to Chlorine

Eliminating water pollution and cleaning up our watersheds are not going to happen overnight, but alternatives to chlorination for water treatment do exist. Dr. Montague reports that several European and Canadian cities now disinfect their water supplies with ozone instead of chlorine. Currently a handful of U.S. cities do the same, most notably Las Vegas, Nevada and Santa Clara, California.

Those who live far from Las Vegas or Santa Clara do have other options. First and foremost is filtration at the faucet. Carbon-based filters are considered the most effective at removing THMs and other toxins. The consumer information website WaterFilterRankings.com compares various water filters on the bases of price and effectiveness. The site reports that filters from Paragon, Aquasana, Kenmore, GE and Seagul remove most if not all of the chlorine, THMs and other potential contaminates in tap water.

Concerned consumers without the money to spend on home filtration, though, can just rely on good old-fashioned patience. Chlorine and related compounds will make their way out of tap water if the container is simply left uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Once chlorine has been taken out of the water you run the risk of bacteria so put that Brita jug in the fridge!

Does your tap water contain hormones from the pill that passed into waste water by girls on the pill? Probably. Low levels of pharmaceuticals in the water supply have been a concern for a decade or longer, says Sarah Janssen, MD, PHD, MPH, a science fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group.

“Ever since the late 1990s, the science community has recognized that pharmaceuticals, especially oral contraceptives, are found in sewage water and are potentially contaminating drinking water,” says Janssen.

The ideal is to drink glass bottled water from a spring far removed from people, factories, farms and golf courses that has a proven content of rich minerals. However, the bottled water industry is notoriously under-regulated. It’s hard to know what to believe.
In addition, if you are buying water in plastic bottles – those bottles have a high BPA content – the chemical used to make plastic. Once the plastic is heated – because a bottle was sitting in the sun while it was in transit to a store or near a hot stove at home, the chemical leaks into the water and voila! It’s in you baby!

The National Institute of Health determined that BPA may pose risks to human development, raising concerns for early puberty, prostate effects, breast cancer, and behavioral impacts from early-life exposures. It is thought that pregnant women, infants and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of BPA, but a recent study linked BPA exposures to risk of heart disease, diabetes, and liver toxicity- thus greatly expanding the risk groups.

It seems that BPA poses a risk to the entire population and with the wide spread use of plastics for eating, cooking and drinking there is nowhere to hide!

What to do?

1. Get the annual water quality report from your utility company
2. Send a sample of your tap water to a local lab to be tested
3. If your water is rife with chemicals look into getting your entire home’s water supply filtered via the main pipe that enters the house. Or you can just get one for the kitchen sink but because chemicals can enter your body when you shower, I recommend the whole system! Ask your local plumbers if they have done this or local architects.

The cheapest filtration system for drinking water simply uses activated carbon filters – like Brita and Pur which work well against bacteria and chlorine but not against chemicals. Be sure to change the filter on a regular basis. More expensive systems are the reverse osmosis system and ionized water systems. You can buy filters for your bath and shower online.

For more information about water filter choices check out: http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2013/03/finding-water-filter-works-you

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