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From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
 

Editor’s note: O‘ahu’s water consistently tests high for safety, purity, and taste.

Tap water is not without its problems. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2005 tested municipal water in 42 states and detected 260 contaminants in public water supplies, 140 of which were unregulated chemicals, that is, chemicals for which public health officials have no safety standards or methods for removing.

EWG found more than 90 percent compliance on the part of water utilities in applying and enforcing standards that exist, but faulted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not establishing standards on many chemicals from industry, agriculture, and urban runoff that contaminate our water.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has also conducted extensive municipal as well as bottled water tests, says: “In the short term, if you are an adult with no special health conditions, and you are not pregnant, then you can drink most cities’ tap water without having to worry.” This is because most of the contaminants in public water supplies exist at such small concentrations that very large quantities would need to be ingested for health problems to occur.

As for bottled water, it is first important to know that 25 to 30 percent of it comes straight from municipal tap water systems, despite the pretty nature scenes on the bottles that imply otherwise. Some of that water goes through additional filtering, but some does not. NRDC has researched bottled water extensively and has found that it is “subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water.” Bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform, contrary to EPA tap water rules which prohibit any such contamination.

Similarly, NRDC found that there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike more stringent EPA rules regulating tap water. This leaves open the possibility, says NRDC, that some bottled water may present similar health threats to those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and others they caution about drinking tap water.

The bottom line is that we have invested considerably in highly efficient municipal water delivery systems that bring this precious liquid straight to our kitchen faucets anytime we need it. Instead of taking that for granted and relying on bottled water instead, we need to make sure our tap water is clean and safe for all.

CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group, ewg.org/tapwater; EPA Local Drinking Water Information,epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo; NRDC, www.nrdc.org/water.
Send questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com.

 

 

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