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Showdown: Scientists Compare Tap To Bottle, Filter

  • 10 August 2018
  • ckearns

In the age of water filters and pricey bottled water options, consumers may get confused about the best way to access drinking water.

But scientists speaking to NPR laid out what water utility pros already know: Tap water is usually the best choice.

“You can buy water with electrolytes, minerals or completely purified. You can buy it with the pH changed to make it alkaline. You can purify your own tap water or even add nutrients back into it. But after seeing a video of a pricey, high-tech filter (about $400 U.S. on sale) that you can monitor with your phone, we wondered, how much of our water filtration fixation is healthy, and how much of it is hype?” NPR reported.

“As it turns out, scientists say that most tap water in the U.S. is just as good as the water in bottles or streaming out of a filter,” the report continued.

Filters may not accomplish much in terms of health, the report said, citing Dan Heil, a professor of health and human performance at Montana State University.

“Say you live somewhere with safe water and want to run your tap water through a filter before drinking it. All that's really doing, Heil says, is making it more palatable by changing the odor or the taste. There's nothing really wrong with that, he says. If liking the taste of your water makes you drink more, then go for it,” NPR reported.

Tanis Fenton, a registered dietitian and epidemiologist at Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, corrected the misconception that filtered water is healthier.

"Water can be contaminated with bacteria, or viruses, or amoeba ... which would cause disease," she said, per the report. "These filters don't do anything to make water safer with respect to those things."

Neil Ward, an analytical chemistry professor at the University of Surrey in the U.K., added that over-purifying water at home may be harmful.

“If you constantly drink sterilized water, your gut flora could become used to that. And then in the off chance you drink water that isn't sterilized, he says your gut could react even more dramatically (and unpleasantly) to microbes or nitrates in the water,” Ward stated, per the report.

Does using filtered water help the environment?

“Filter manufacturers often use an environmental angle to sell their products, asking their audience to think about all the plastic bottles of water you could stop using if you could just create perfect water in your own home. But cartridges and filters must be replaced, and then disposed of or recycled in some way. For a Brita pitcher, that's every 40 gallons or about every two months that you are tossing out a filter or shipping it off to be recycled into a bike rack or watering can,” the report stated.

“At the end of the day, if you are trying to improve your health, help the planet, and save your wallet, filling up a reusable water bottle with tap water is a good way to start,” it continued.

The American Water Works Association discusses tap and bottled water on its consumer website

“In the vast majority of cases, both bottled water and tap water are safe, healthy choices. If your tap water meets all the regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which sets the standards for tap water, you can have a high degree of confidence in its safety. In fact, some of the largest bottled water distributors use municipal water as their source,” the website notes.

Food and Water Watch, an activism group, published a list of reasons tap is better than bottled water:

  • Bottled water is not typically safer than tap water. In fact, more than half of all bottled water comes from the tap.
  • Buying bottled water is like pouring money down the drain. Bottled water costs from $0.89 per gallon to $8.26 per gallon, compared to fractions of a penny for water from your tap. That makes bottled water thousands of times more expensive than tap water.
  • Water bottle garbage is a major source of pollution.
  • Buying a reusable bottle is an easy way to save money and help the environment.

Image credit: "Faucet Drip 1," Eric Norris © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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