Last summer here in Northwest Ohio we had what we lovingly refer to as “Aquapocalypse 2014”. There were higher levels of microcystin — a toxin produced by a type of blue-green algae known as microcystis —in our water than the city recommends (although it was below World Health Organization standards).
The story broke in the middle of Friday night and initially we were told we couldn’t touch the water: no showering, no cooking, no drinking, no nothing. We couldn’t boil it, that made the microcystin more concentrated. What’s a resident to do? Run to the store to buy bottled water, along with hundreds of thousands of our neighbors.
But what’s really in that bottled water and is it better than drinking clean tap water?
Like I’m sure many of you did, I thought BPA-Free plastic meant our plastic was safe. Now I’m not quite sure. True, BPA isn’t used in most any plastic anymore and they have banned a few more endocrine disrupting chemicals, but my search didn’t turn up anything that made me feel confident in the safety of the PET plastic that most manufacturers use to bottle their water. There have been studies that indicate that there are further chemicals to be weary of inside PET plastic, but nothing incredibly definitive either way.
I don’t like taking those risks, especially with my family.
Not as Pure as You Think
The EWG did an investigation into 10 brands of bottled water. The results were nothing short of nasty. They found disinfection byproducts, caffeine, Tylenol, heavy metals, arsenic, radioactive isotopes, nitrates and ammonia, and a bunch of other chemicals from various solvents, plasticizers, and propellants. Gross.
And the EWG isn’t alone in their investigation of waters. In 2008 Texas Southern University tested 35 brands of bottled water and found that 4 were contaminated with bacteria. In 1999, the Natural Resources Defense Council tested 103 bottled waters and found about 1/2 of them contained contaminants and chemicals.
Our trust that the bottled water companies are actually providing with something better than what’s in our tap is clearly misplaced.
Pollution is a Problem
According to the EPA, 33 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2013 and only 9% of the total plastic waste generated that year was recovered for recycling. Americans on average drink more than 73 BILLION half-liter bottles of water every year. Lining them up end to end, those bottles would circle the world 370 times. They also say approximately only 30% of those bottles are recycled. That is crazy.
In addition to waste produced by the bottles themselves, there is the environmental impact of the bottling plants. The Pacific Institute calculates that producing water bottles requires the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy to transport them.
So, even if you recycle that bottle, did you think about all the impact of its creation? I never used to, either. But now that you know, perhaps it’s time to switch.
The 411 on Filters
Your best bet for clean drinking water remains in your tap, but perhaps you would rather have something still a little more clean. Home filters are really going to be your best compromise.
A great resource for all things filters is going to be the Environmental Working Group’s Filter Buying Guide, or their comprehensive list of filter types and technologies.
Carbon filters are what Brita filters offer, and also what I have at home. It is the most effective for eliminating any cytotoxin (which microcystin is) besides reverse osmosis (which is expensive).
Tap water costs about $0.002 a gallon (two-tenths of a penny!!) so the cost of bottled water stacks up to be 1,900 times more than tap water. And at that price, there’s not even the guarantee that it’s any better than what’s flowing out of your tap.
So back to last summer…
After a few hours and waking up the mayor and some other city scientists who did more reviewing and testing, we were told we could pretty much resume our daily lives, except you probably shouldn’t drink the water or cook with it until we got the all clear. Since I know what I know now about bottles vs. filters, should the blue-green algae appearance disturb our drinking water again this summer, I will simply drink exclusively from my Brita filter without a second worry.
Do you drink bottled water? Do you have a water filtering system at home?