In North America, we take water quality for granted so it can be confusing to try to sort out how sources compare, such as bottled water and tap.
The Importance Of Water Quality
If you live in Ontario, you might remember the water quality fiasco that resulted in tragedy in Walkerton in 2000. Many people became ill due to E. coli infections sourced from contaminated water. Some people died. This situation illustrated that access to clean water can affect community health in developed nations.
In the Walkerton case, the diligence needed to protect the water supply was undermined by a combination of under-funding and the incompetence of those responsible to oversee the community’s water safety.
Certainly, water safety is a huge concern because the quality of the water supply can easily be compromised. As a result, we should bear this in mind when politicians begin to broadcast the need to make funding cuts in health care or environment monitoring. Water and food safety should never be targets for these kinds of cutbacks – there’s too much at risk.
The Ontario Ministry of Health provides guidance on a number of water safety issues pertaining to municipal and private (well) water sources here:
Various programmes in place to protect regional water quality are outlined by the Ministry of the Environment here:
In summary, these programmes require water to be periodically tested on about 158 parameters at various points from source to tap. Water system operators take samples which are tested at provincially licensed labs. I’ll leave it to you to decide if the programme in your community provides the rigorous level of oversight needed.
Tap Versus Bottled Water
Bottled water is big business, about $100 billion globally. During the past 20 years, there has been a surge in its popularity because of convenience and implied quality benefits. However, more recently, we’re perceiving the disadvantages of relying on bottled water.
Sources for bottled water may be natural or drawn from a municipal system. The water must be treated to ensure it complies with the regulatory standards for safety. Treatment methods include
- filtration (absolute micron filtration, reverse osmosis filtration),
- and ozonation.
Most types of bottled water do not contain fluoride or chlorine.
Health and Safety Regulations
No matter treatment is used, bottled water in Canada must comply with safety regulations under the Food and Drugs Act. You can view the content of the Act and its regulations here:
Also, there are guidelines related to microbiological safety that apply. These are on view here:
Standards, regulations and guidelines are intended to ensure bottled water is at least as safe as tap for common contaminants such as lead and potentially infectious microorganisms.
However, there can be other sources of contamination, such as chemical contamination with bisphenol A (BPA).
Medically, BPA is considered to be an “endocrine disruptor”. In other words, it mimics the activity of some hormones and can disturb normal hormonal balance.
The hard plastic used to make sports water bottles may leach BPA. Most manufacturers supply their products in bottles that contain polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE) instead of BPA.
Are there concerns about PET? In a word, yes. Here is a study that showed the element antimony can leach from the PET in bottles into water when stored in places where the temperature was warm or hot.
In addition to the concerns about contamination from these bottles, there are also many concerns about environmental/ecological issues associated with
- their production because water and petroleum are needed to make them,
- and disposal since they’re only meant to be used once; phthalate contamination increases with repeated use.
Getting The Most From Your Water
Most adults need to drink at least 8 glasses of water daily, so convenient access to safe, good-tasting water is important.
I recommend that people rely on tap water as their main source. Drink it straight from the tap or store it in a glass pitcher. When on the go, take water with you in a stainless steel bottle.
Let tap sit at room temperature for a few hours before drinking it because most of the chlorine will off-gas from the water.
Use a filtration system on your tap water if you’re concerned about fluoride or other additives/contaminants. There are many types of these; find one that suits your budget and lifestyle.