Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water: Rethink What You Drink

Chemicals, contaminants, pollution, price: new reasons to rethink what you drink and beware of bottled water.

Also in Reader's Digest Magazine February 2008

don't let your health expire water pitcherWhat Can You Do?
Worried about the toll your bottled water habit has on you or the earth? Take these steps.

• Try the tap again. First, check it out. If your water comes from a public source (rather than a well), you should get a water-quality or consumer-confidence report from the water company once a year. It’s also available at any time from the local water utility. Read the report carefully, making sure not only that your water has received a passing grade overall but also that contaminants haven’t exceeded the maximum allowable levels, even for a short while. If you have well water, get it tested every year. For more information, call the EPA’s toll-free Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791, or visit the website for the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water.

• Get a canteen. Carry your plain or filtered tap water in a reusable stainless steel or lined drinking container, and clean it between uses. Some come with an easy-to-tote strap. We like the stainless steel versions from Klean Kanteen and New Wave Enviro, and the colorful bottles from SIGG.

• Think twice about the office watercooler. If it’s made of polycarbonate, it has the potential to leach BPA, a chemical that can cause neurological problems, among other things. And have you ever seen anyone actually clean the watercooler? Probably not.

• Shop smart. When you must have bottled, look for brands that have NSF certifica-tion or belong to IBWA. Check out the lists at or, or look at the bottle itself (the NSF logo appears on labels of tested brands). If the brand you’re looking for isn’t there, contact the bottler. Ask where the water is bottled and what exactly is in it.

• Keep it cool. Don’t drink from a bottle that’s been subjected to high temperatures (sitting in your car, for example), don’t store it anywhere it will be exposed to heat or chemicals, and don’t reuse plastic bottles.

• Go with glass. Choose glass containers (Eden Springs and Voss are two popular brands) over plastic whenever possible. When you’re done, recycle!

Do You Need a Filter?
The water that comes out of your faucet is probably safe. In general, toxins in drinking water don’t exceed EPA limits, but there are still legitimate concerns. From a funny taste to lead contamination from aging pipes, your tap water may have picked up some unsavory additions along the way.

What’s in your water? Certain areas of the country are subject to particular toxins, such as runoff from farms and by-products of industry, like arsenic, which can also occur naturally in the environment.

Have it tested. If you’re concerned, have your water tested by a lab that’s certified by the state; the EPA has an online listing of certification officers, or call your health department for recommendations.Choose a filter. Choices range from tabletop containers, such as a carafe with a carbon filter (Brita and PUR are popular brands), to devices that purify the water as it enters your home. In between are faucet-mounted, under-sink and reverse osmosis units. Look for one approved by NSF, Underwriters Laboratories or the Water Quality Association, and clean it as recommended by the manufacturer. Do it yourself. Some water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria, but the taste turns people off. The fix? Pour water into a clear glass container and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours to let the chlorine dissipate into the air.

Fluoride Facts
Most bottled water doesn’t contain added fluoride (if it does, it will say so on the label). Kids are drinking more bottled water and less fluoridated tap, and some say that’s behind the recent rise in dental decay. While the cavity link hasn’t been confirmed, pediatric dentist Mary Hayes, DDS, says, “I tell parents that if they choose bottled water without fluoride, they’re losing an opportunity to protect their child’s teeth. We know fluoride has a great track record in diminishing the risk of decay.”

If your tap water is fortified, you probably don’t need fluoride in bottled. But if your family has well water without fluoride, drinks only bottled or uses a filter that removes fluoride (many do), ask your dentist about supplements for your child.

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