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Water wars: Is bottled or tap water better for your health?

Lankenau Medical Center August 25, 2014 General Wellness By Marisa Weiss, MD

Many doctors recommend drinking eight glasses of fluids a day to keep your systems flowing and going. Water is a much healthier zero-calorie beverage than soda, juice, or energy drinks. Clean drinking water straight from the tap was a great technological advance, and bottled water is an important backup for emergencies. In the last two decades though, bottled water sales skyrocketed as people turned away from the tap. Still, bottled water may have some issues, including what to do with all those bottles! Here are some tips to keep you hydrated and healthy.

Tap water may be your best option

Tap water is certainly the most affordable and the most regulated choice for drinking water. Drinking eight glasses per day of New York City tap water costs about 49 cents per year — and 500,000-plus samples per year are tested to ensure it meets purity standards. All U.S. public drinking water supplies are regulated more strictly and consistently than bottled water. More than 100 contaminants are regularly monitored and 94 percent of public water suppliers are in full compliance with regulations. Public water suppliers have to use certified labs for testing and provide water quality reports to customers. You can learn more about these reports on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Consumer Confidence Report Rule’s Frequent Questions page. If you get your water from a private well, you are responsible for the safety of your water. For information on how to make sure your well water is safe, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Private Drinking Water Wells website.

How you can help keep drinking water safe: Everyone has a role in protecting the water supply. Before you throw away unused medicines (including birth control pills), paint, motor oil, pesticides, cleaners, and other chemical-based products, talk to your local health or hazardous waste departments about how to safely dispose of these products. You also can visit SMARxT Disposal for more tips.

Filter it for extra protection

Home water filtration systems can remove many contaminants, including hormone-disrupting compounds in pharmaceutical products. Both Brita and Proctor & Gamble (maker of PUR filters) say their filter pitchers remove more than 96 percent of pharmaceutical contaminants. These pitchers contain granular activated carbon filters. Filtering with a well-maintained pitcher (meaning you change the filter regularly) or a faucet-mounted or under sink version, which have a solid carbon block filter, is a great way to make sure the water coming into your home is as safe as possible. Filtering also may improve the taste of your water. The NSF International website has information on how to choose drinking water treatment systems for your home. NSF International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) is a nonprofit organization that collaborates with the World Health Organization on drinking water safety and treatment. You have to change the filters on a regular basis in order to get the benefit.

Pack your own

Carrying your own water when you leave the house is a sure way to save money and avoid the unknowns of bottled water. You may be surprised to know that almost half of all bottled water IS tap water, bought from municipalities and bottled by private companies. All we accomplish by buying bottled water is paying more money. Labels on bottled water give only minimal information, and it’s nowhere near the amount of information public water reports must have.

Carry your water in stainless steel or glass

There are great options for stainless steel water bottles—just make sure your choice doesn’t have a plastic liner. Glass water bottles are gaining popularity, and many have silicone sleeves to make them less slippery and help prevent breakage. If you use a hard plastic water bottle, choose BPA-free (most are recycling number 7 and should specify “BPA-free”). Don’t reuse plastic bottles with a recycling number 1 on them (most individual water bottles are number 1 plastic). Keep plastic water bottles away from heat, including hot beverages and the sun, and replace them if they get scratched. Fill ‘er up and take with you wherever you go—what do you carry your water in?

Marisa Weiss, MD is a radiation oncologist at Lankenau Medical Center and the founder of breastcancer.org.