When Water Only Looks Clean: Tap vs. Bottled Water? What To Do Instead

Water is essential to life … and yet in our modern society, it seems like more and more of a challenge to get it sustainably and affordably. We must pay either municipal or private companies for the water that comes out of the tap — which, as we see in Flint, Michigan’s situation, could be toxic to our health. Yet bottled water is also unhealthy, often packaged in BPA plastic that pollutes our oceans and fills up landfills.

What is the solution? How can we enjoy this life-nourishing substance without adding toxins to our bodies and the environment?

To avoid heavy metals, BPA, and other contaminants in the water my family drinks, I’ve explored several options for purifying water. Here’s what I discovered.

 

What’s in Our Water?

Water is rarely pure H2O. It’s often infused with minerals from its surroundings, such as limestone springs or rock-lined rivers. That’s not always a bad thing: trace elements of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and iron are good for the body. The problem is that tap water is transported through pipes that may be rusted or corroded. This adds the risk of bacterial or lead contamination.

Municipal water suppliers will tell you that tap water goes through intense filtration and perhaps even has more minerals than bottled spring water. However, the U.S.’s water regulations haven’t changed in 20 years to reflect new findings about PFAS, heavy metal content, and other potential contaminants.

Those substances leach into groundwater from agricultural and industrial operations, as well as lawn fertilizers and pesticides. There are also trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in wastewater that aren’t fully removed when the water is re-treated. And let’s not forget that lead pipes are still a thing, poisoning the water for 9.2 million homes.

Considering these risk factors — and that tap water often tastes bad for those reasons — many Americans opt for bottled water. Per capita consumption has steadily risen for the past two decades and reached 45.2 gallons in 2020. There are multiple types of bottled water on the market, including spring water, alkaline water, etc.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot of plastic, most of which contains BPA, a known endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen. Most of that plastic ends up in the landfill or in the ocean, where it breaks down into microparticles that harm corals and other aquatic life. In fact, those Microplastics often break down from the bottle before you even drink the water. Consuming microplastics has been linked to inflammation, hormone disorders, and organ damage.

There’s also the fact that drawing up and bottling spring water have a massive environmental impact. Just to produce the bottles takes 17 million barrels of oil, contributing to fossil fuel dependence and carbon pollution. In Florida, Nestlé holds permits to pump water from 5 springs, up to 400 million gallons per year. This has drastically reduced the springs’ flow, which impacts the state’s delicate waterways and municipal water supply for Floridians.

So, both tap water and bottled water are potentially contaminated, and bottled water has terrible environmental and health effects as well. What can we do?

Types of Water Filtration

If you are not able to obtain an eco-friendly bottled water, your best bet is likely tap water. However, you’ll need to make sure it’s safe for consumption. That’s where additional filtration comes in.

There are three types of water filtration:

  • Mechanical filtration physically removes particulate matter from the water. This method includes reverse osmosis, or RO, in which the water is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane that traps any particles. Molecules move from areas of high pressure to low pressure, so only the actual H2) molecules make it through the membrane.
  • Absorption uses a chemical such as carbon that binds with toxins and impurities. Carbon filters help remove sulfates, nitrates, and other contaminants, as well as microbes. These are what you’ll find in Brita pitchers and faucet attachments. This method is a quick fix, though: it works on the water right before you consume it. The filters also require frequent replacement.
  • Ionic filtration passes the water through a resin medium composed of hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl groups. The water molecules trade any hitchhiking sulfates for hydrogen ions, leaving the water with a higher oxygen content. People often find this makes the water taste better, and it’s ideal for well water

Each of these methods can help purify the water. However, they all have drawbacks; none of them are sufficient on their own to remove all toxins from your tap water. So ideally, you would use all of them in a complementary water filtration setup. If you have an aquarium, you’re familiar with this concept: you need mechanical filtration (e.g. a mesh sponge) and chemical filtration (e.g. carbon) to remove biological waste from the water.

For example, RO water is primed for further purification using absorption or ionic filtration. Many reverse osmosis systems come with a carbon filter; some include a UV light as well.

 

Setting Up Your Water Purification Plan

Your first step is to figure out what’s in your water. You can search for your water utilities’ testing data, although you may want to conduct your own testing as well.

Ultimately, your water filtration needs will depend on your local water source, environmental influences, your home’s pipes, and many other factors. You may need multiple stages of filtration and purification. When done well, your tap water should retain some essential minerals while being free from microbes, sulfates, heavy metals, and PFAS.

I’ve heard some people say that RO water is deprived of minerals, but remember, you can always get calcium, magnesium, etc. from your food. And there’s no clear evidence that RO water is unhealthy. In my opinion, the benefit of removing toxins is worth any decrease in minerals.

I worked with WaterCure to find the best system for my home. They provide water testing to determine what’s actually in your water. From there, they help you create a plan of action. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to install a faucet filter (and theirs feature heavy-duty mechanical/absorption technology). Other times, you may need multiple levels of defense. WaterCure offers UV water purification, reverse osmosis systems, and heavy metal filtration.

Wrapping Up

It’s so important to our well-being to drink water throughout the day. There’s really no substitute. That’s why we can’t risk the negative health effects of contaminated water. And unfortunately, both tap and bottled water have significant risks. Any purity you obtain in bottled water comes with environmental effects, including BPA and other toxins. But tap water is only measured by outdated standards and could be delivered to you via microbe-covered lead pipes.

I took water filtration into my own hands, and I’m so glad I did. You can absolutely taste and feel the difference. With the help of water purification experts such as WaterCure, there’s no guilt or worry in enjoying fresh, clean water throughout your day.

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