HOW SAFE IS YOUR DRINKING WATER?
Because of the nature of water during its journey through the hydrological cycle, it moves into the air in the form of vapor, and returns to earth in the form of rain. For centuries, this process left the returning water purified and ready to travel into streams, rivers and underground sources for our use. The problem today is that because of water's solvent nature it picks up all of the particles it comes in contact with and that contact has become more deadly with the introduction of chemicals into our ecosystem. As water makes its trek back to earth and into our wells and streams, it picks up smoke from factories, smog, airborne molds, detergent, radioactivity, fertilizers, solvents, dyes, mercury, nitrates, phosphates, petroleum, radium, lead fungicides, pesticides and a host of other substances harmful to humans. For this reason, we must be careful of our water sources and the manner in which we use water on a daily basis.
There are other dangers in drinking water such as parasitic creatures, microorganisms and coliform bacteria like menatodes, Cryptosporidium and Giardia. These can be found in well and spring sources that are not properly treated and filtered and can pose extreme risks to people causing severe cramping and diarrhea and possibly dehydration. Most home filters do not kill these contaminants, but they are eliminated during municipal water treatment generally, with only rare cases to the contrary. Elderly, people with impaired immune systems like HIV infected individuals, patients taking chemotherapy and organ transplant recipients ingesting anti-rejection drugs are particularly at risk and should buy certified bottled water or boil or filter to remove other contaminates. High nitrate levels poses a serious threat to young children and a condition called "blue baby syndrome", which can be fatal if untreated. Boiling nitrate contaminated water for babies elevates the nitrated concentration , causing greater risks. The EPA has a set of standards called the Maximum Contaminant Levels, for more than 80 contaminants. Of these substances, coliform bacteria and nitrate excesses pose immediate threats to health, but low "acceptable levels" of many other contaminants are allowed.
Additionally, in a recent study by University of Arizona, the kitchen and the sponges and dishcloths therein supply the worst breeding ground in the house for the cultivation of bacteria - far more so than the bathroom according to microbiologist Charles Gerba. This along with lead filled pipes that leach deadly lead used to solder home plumbing, and toxins into the water flowing through them makes bottled water a better choice for consumption in most cases. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law Foundation in a lawsuit against several faucet manufacturers, brass alloy faucets are also problematic because they introduce more than 0.5 micrograms of lead per liter of water into homes, far lower than California standards. Because of that legal case, eleven faucet companies are now required to make 65% of their faucets virtually lead-free by the end of 1998, and 95% free by the end of 1999.
For a listing of low-lead faucets already in place, contact NSF International at 800-673-8010.
If you are concerned about your tap water, you may want to have it tested, according to Consumer Union of U.S., Inc., there are hundreds of laboratories to choose from. The U.S. EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 has a list of certified agencies. These companies have many levels of testing which include checks on lead, copper, cadmium, fluoride, week-killers, PCBs, nitrate and pesticides, while the city usually only tests for harmful metal levels. If contaminants are discovered, there are several kinds of filter systems that treat for home usage. Systems include faucet-mounted, countertop and under-sink models.
Most consistently, bottled water seems to supply the highest nutritional value with the least amount of danger or risk. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bottled water has never been responsible for an outbreak of waterborne illness. An education is needed in order to know which one to buy however. There are over 1500 brand names, ranging in price from $.69 to $2.13 for a one liter bottle. There are many foreign waters as well as domestic brands. According to International Bottled Water Association, a trade organization for water professionals:
Artesian Water - bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer, or water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand.
Drinking Water - Water sold for human consumption in sanitary containers with no added sweeteners or chemical additives, flavors, extracts or essences comprising more than one % by weight of the final product (notice no mention of its origin).
Mineral Water - Bottled water containing not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids may be labeled as mineral water. It differs from other types of bottled water by its constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source
Purified Water - Produced by distillation, de ionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes that meets the definition of purified water in the US Pharmacopoeia may be labeled as such. Also called distilled water, de ionized water and reverse osmosis water.
Sparkling Water - Water that after treatment and possible replacement with carbon dioxide contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source with no added ingredients. Different from soda water with may contain sugar and calories.
Spring Water - Bottled water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. It must be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation finding the spring.
Well Water - Bottled water from a hole bored, drilled or otherwise constructed in the ground, which taps the water of an aquifer.
Each type of water has its own benefits and the market is too vast and the data too varied to compare one to another so research for your own particular needs. They all have different levels of trace minerals, which prove beneficial to health, and getting one with sufficient magnesium is important for additional heart health.
To make the best assessment as to the system or combination of systems that is right for you, additional research is recommended. There are good points and bad ones for every geographical area in the country so no sweeping generalities will really work. For those of you wishing to better understand water standards and criteria, there are two books recommended on the subject. The Pocket Guide to Bottled Water by Arthur von Wiesenberger, 1991; and The Good Water Guide by Maureen and Timothy Green, 1994. Other resources include an annual report called The U.S. Bottled Water Market & Packaging Report produced by Beverage Marketing at 850 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. which provides facts on both domestic and imported bottled water including profiles on leading brands, pricing, etc. It is an industry publication, but useful for consumers as well if you can get a copy. Also, the Freshwater Foundation, 2500 Shadywood Road, Box 90, Navarre, Minnesota 55392 is a research center which provides research and public information to its membership. A monthly industry newspaper is U.S. Water News at 230 Main Street, Halstead, KS 67056 though it leans more toward legislation, stocks, policy, with some quality and supply issues. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) at (703) 683-5213, and Bottled Water Web, along with the Federal Drug Administration and EPA at www.epa.gov/OGWDW site are all good places to gain further information along with National Drinking Water Clearinghouse at www.ndwc.wvu.edu ; National Association of Water Companies at (202) 833-8383 and develop your own opinions.
Article written for UPSCALE Magazine – 1999 – circ. 240,000 - By Toni Colley-Lee