Bottled Water or Tap Water, Which is Safe?

Potable water is defined as colorless water smells and tastes pleasing, is free of any harmful bacteria that can cause illness and free of excessive amounts of dissolved solids or minerals, according to the authors the Water Supply Trade Journal. This is different from the definition of pure water. Pure water contains no impurities at all, whereas potable water contains some impurities. Harmful impurities can be classified into four categories according to The United Association for Journeyworkers and Apprentices. In their trade journal Water Supply, these categories include minerals, suspended particulates, gases and pathogenic microorganisms. There are a series of impurity removal and treatments for raw water that are used to create potable water my most municipalities in more urban settings. Those municipalities that rely on well water use different methods that are less complicated and more susceptible to contamination, via groundwater contamination or pollution. The design of these systems, whether designing a well/pump system or water treatment system, is designed by government standards to provide a safe water supply. Part of this design is the employment of E.P.A. standards. As judged by the E.P.A., water supply must meet their official criteria listed as:

  1. Physical characteristics; taste, color, level of turbidity, temperature and odor
  2. Chemical content; hardness or softness
  3. Biological ingredients; primary microorganisms that have a direct bearing on our health
  4. Radiological substances; must be avoided as must any water that has in any way contacted radioactive materials (“Water Supply.” International Pipe Trades Joint Training Committee, Inc., Washington D.C.(2001). Pg.11)

Municipalities can test the water it supplies on an hourly basis. This depends on the location and size of the public water system. There are certain contaminants that are checked more frequently than others as set by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but, most testing is done weekly, monthly or annually. Every public water supplier is required to provide an annual report of its water testing results to its community with any and all findings. If you want your household water supply tested (actually, it’d be interesting to test various bottles of water), testing can run from $15 to hundreds of dollars, depending on what information is being sought.

If you live in a community with a well-supplied water system, there are a few steps to maintain water safety. Roughly, these steps include: identifying potential problem sources; talking with local experts; periodic testing; having the results interpreted for you; setting up a proper maintenance schedule and keeping records and the remedying of any problems immediately. Codes and laws are setup by local, regional and federal agencies to allow for consumers of well water systems to breathe easily, knowing these systems are designed to provide a safe water supply.

The bottled water industry has provided for an interesting perspective in our drinking habits. The idea is that our water supply is contaminated by a superfluous amount of pollution in a variety of ways. First, there is the introduction of chemicals, such as petroleum, ammonia or other hazardous chemicals that spill whenever train cars derail that can harm to consumers in the form of disease. Referred to in Environmental Science, A Global Concern, the Clean Water Act sets total maximum daily loads for each pollutant listed in a particular water body. It also states that by 1999, all 56 states and territories submitted TMDL Lists. Out of 3.5 million miles of rivers being monitored, about 300,000 miles failed to comply with these standards. Second, there are also the pollutants that occur when large facilities create hazardous wastes whenever they go about their business. These point sources discharge pollution from drain pipes or sewage outfalls which seep into the groundwater supply or other natural water supply, thus, being funneled into our tap water and through our faucets which results in sickening consumers of tap water. There is still a third issue. Human wastefulness adding to the issue of water scarcity adds to the bottled water argument that tap water is unsafe and that safe water is running out of supply; the only safe water is bottled water. Here, the premise relies on two things; wasteful use of water when washing our cars or taking 30 minute showers and in how we manage our waste. Managing our waste is presented in two ideas. First, there is what we do with our garbage in our homes or offices. Do we recycle? Do we ‘trash’ things unnecessarily? How do we recycle? Do we litter? Are we conscience of how we live when it comes to waste and trash? Secondly, waste water, in the minds of Americans, is viewed as anything but what comes out of our faucets. But, would we use captured rain water to water our lawns? Would we consider using bath water to flush our toilettes? Would we use captured rain water for showers, toileting, or similar practices? What about using dishwater for our lawns? I’m sure if we use ecologically safe products to rinse our dishes, it could be used to water our plants and lawns. So, in effect, the bottled water industry relies on the ‘Big Bother not doing its job’ argument. Who can blame the bottled water industry for contriving this contention? Bacteria do live in our water supply. Where there are fish and plants, there is likely to be some form of pathogens living there as well. Fish, and the birds of prey that rely on them, surely release their wastes in the water or on the grounds where rainfall runs into these water supplies. Train accidents and chemical producing companies have been releasing their toxic spew into the environment for decades one way or another. And, we as individuals have been contributing to the problem as a whole as well. By not recycling or by littering, we have contributed a major contributor to water scarcity and pollution as well. The EPA and the water treatment facilities in most areas across the US have been doing their job in keeping the water supply safe. Where the government falls short is in small rural areas where the main source of income is big business. No doubt, the water supply in these small towns is contaminated by organic pollutants of some sort. The consequences of doing without the business means a loss of revenue for the town and, possibly the county via taxes, and to the people who live there as it is the main source of income. Yet, at the same time, the pollution is creating the health issues in the very townsfolk living and working there for nominal wages when healthcare is at a premium. Proving the tap water is being contaminated or polluted by the company proves to be a difficult endeavor on several fronts. Mainly, these companies have all sorts of money to use towards litigation, and instead of doing the right thing, they continue their practices and affect human health in the meantime.

Bottled water, is monitored by the F.D.A.. Regulations requiring the bottled water supply are not as stringent as municipal water supplies. Current good manufacturing practices (CGMP) include protection from site contamination and sanitary site conditions. Included are two tests on water samples one of the source and another and another in the form of quality control in the final product to show that it is free of any contaminants. There must be records kept and provided when government inspectors request them. Bottlers must also maintain source approval for government approval.

In a study covering bottled water from forty one countries (Clinical Composition of Bottled Mineral Water; Allen, A.E., Halley-Henderson, M.A., Hass C.N), of 291 brands of mineral water 9-20% exceeded the standards set by local authorities for levels of several minerals including chloride, kalium, sulphate and fluorine. Mineral water quality and health standards could not be qualified as bad since the standards measured were not for health effects, but, more for mineral composition. In Environmental Science, it is stated that, approximately half of the bottled water in America is reprocessed tap water. It goes on to mention that the rest is drawn straight from aquifers. While most large cities test the tap water for pathogens and harsh chemicals on an hourly basis, according to the books authors Cunningham and Cunningham.

We can see that there is a difference in the controls governing tap water verses bottled water. So, concerning the construction and design of water supply, treatment, drainage and sewage systems, there are a variety of systems employed or available that may be applied to provide a clean and safe drinking water supply.

Water treatment, in the trade journal Water Supply, includes a variety of methods to provide a potable water supply. Many previously mentioned methods are quite intricate. Impurities can be removed via sedimentation, filtration, aeration and addition of chemicals. In addition, coagulation, filtration, chlorination, fluoridation and pH adjustment are also used to treat raw water. One conspiracy theory I’ve heard raised is that Nazi Germany used fluoride in the 1930’s and 1940’s to kill off the undesired people, and, since we use fluoride, the U.S. government is doing the same to its own citizens. In local water quality reports that municipalities are required to provide, the water standard provided indicates that fluoride be no greater than 1.5 ppm, this is also mentioned in Water Supply. This is an acceptable level as provided by the EPA.

Along the way, in providing for a clean water supply, is the network of mains and pipes. Grant it, it is an aging (and very aged) system, it still functions well. One of the concerns, historically, and even today, is battling corrosion to our piping systems that supply our tap water. Some transfer of material composition is expected to transfer from piping system to water, this is why the delivery system is so extremely important. Aside from durability, with is not a secondary issue at all, chemical transfer of materials into our drinking water is a significant concern in construction of our water management systems. This is why we no longer use chemicals such as lead in our flux or solder in our water supply. Lead is used to mechanically aid in the joining of cast iron pipes that carry away our waste. Still, the lead is buffered by yarns of oakum that really hold the piping system together along with other supports.

So, as to corrosion, the Related Science trade journal discusses three different types; chemical, physical and electro-mechanical. In domestic situations, the two more common pipe or plumbing failures are likely going to be A) physical, due to poor design or installation, defect, or age or B) electro-mechanical or galvanic, again, due to poor installation or defect. Physical corrosion of a piping system is also referred to as erosion some of the chemicals in suspension of a piping system creates an abrasive action. Related Science explains this further by getting into the velocity at which fluids and chemicals are passing through a system, hence, when designing a systems installation, what type of facility is using the system determines the pitch or plumb of pipe along with its composition (if it is to be made of glass, cast iron, ductile iron, etc), among many other variables.

So, this is important in determining the composition of a piping system so as not to transfer, in trace elements, anything that can alter the purity of water in a way that affects its suitability for drinking. All in all, there are many ways that the trade journal Related Science discusses in reducing corrosion. Some include dielectric insulation, avoiding excess welding heat, reduce condensation on the surface of pipes, using inhibitors to retard corrosion through absorption, and the use of bituminous coatings. These are but a few of the precautions used in selecting the best and most efficient system to provide a safe and secure water supply and drainage system.

In the article in the Journal of water and Health, Veronica Blett goes to great length on the rights consumers have in the process of obtaining information on our drinking water that municipalities provide. She maintains that EPA has established strict rules for water utilities to follow, not only getting the water to our faucets in a safe manner, but, in providing and honest reporting system in the contents of the water – if it contains impurities and to what level. This report must contain several factors, including how to get in contact with the water provider (utility), water source, contaminants detected and additional educational information helpful to the consumer.

Also, what must be included in this report is whether any regulated contaminant has been detected and whether it exceeds any federal or state safety standards. The burden is on the utility provider to have this information readily available to consumers. It must be mailed to all residents who receive water bills and provided in other means, somehow, to other residents who do not receive bills via the postal route. The communication route Blett details in her article is extremely detailed in the process and steps needing taken in any and all routes of getting the information out to the public. This is all set up by the EPA. She mentions how the EPA is interested in building trust. They commissioned the Gallop institution in 2002 to determine the level of trust the public has in drinking tap water. According to the results, over 71% felt confident or very confident that the drinking water in the U.S. was safe to drink. She notes that communication is essential. Once consumer confidence is lost or broken, it is extremely difficult to repair. She points to a case in Washington D.C. where one representative hadn’t used tap water since the mid 1990’s when there was an issue with communicating  certain amounts of lead in the drinking water had not been conveyed or articulated in a manner that was completely honest.

Communicating any problems or issues effectively at the right times is paramount. Acting quickly to detect a problem isn’t the only step. Finding a resolution to the problem and then communicating these issues along with all the steps taken is necessary. Many times, it may not sit on the municipalities shoulders, as a problem may arise elsewhere in the water supply system, such as at a school. This, too, is where compliance comes into play. Compliance isn’t just a city, county or state issue. Other agencies we may not think of are responsible as well. Our county courthouses, jailing or detention systems, hospitals, retirement communities and our schools provide water to ‘communities within communities’. Some of these examples, such as detention centers, schools and courthouses are places where people work and where people, otherwise, spend their time, even if it is not by choice. Blett discusses a Seattle school district that had lead in the water supply system on two separate occasions. The first time it noticed a problem, it did not communicate the issue in a way the public found to be proper. The second time lead was found in the system, it seems the school district learned from their mistake and did nothing to hold back on sharing everything it was doing with the public. Here, not only were children at risk, but, teachers, administrators and all other staff that makes the school what it is were all at risk as well. We may be less compassionate to our inmates, but, the same drinking water they use, contaminated or not, is the same drinking water used by those staffing our prisons, courts and detention centers. So, we cans see compliance, regulation and communication is complicated and necessary. There are a multitude of levels and tiers in the process of keeping us informed and safe when consuming drinking water.

We can see that, both, municipal water suppliers and the bottled water industry has faults. It is most clear that the bottled water industry is out for profit while the municipalities are out to serve the public a safe water supply. There is trouble on both fronts. While it is up to the consumer to be educated and aware, the government is responsible for regulating emissions, pollutants, contaminants and many other things. Perhaps, there are failings and limitations to and what the government is providing, but, that is where we step in, as citizens and as consumers of the services they provide. Think of it this way, we are the consumers of our education system, roads and infrastructure and tap water just as we are consumers of the music we buy, the food we. purchase from the independent grocery store and the repairs to our autos. If we complain of the prices and protest the mechanic for overcharging us, should we not do the same for our drinking water? It makes no sense to pay for a safe tap water system, and then boycott it by buying bottled water. If tap water is unfit to drink, does anyone really want to bathe or wash their clothes and dishes in it? If tap water were so unfit to consume and bottled water so safe, why aren’t we washing our clothes in it? Why don’t we bathe in it? Perhaps, I don’t understand the concept well, but, I don’t see bottled water being subsidized. That could be the fact that speaks for itself in determining whether the government is up to no good. I think the government is smart enough to be in on something, early on in the game if it was as evil as it is painted. But, I don’t think the government is all bad. Nor, do I believe it to be completely inept. I do believe there are certain degrees of inability and wrong doing by the government, but, I also believe its out for our best intentions. Bottled water is not. The bottled water is out for a quick and extreme profit, at all costs. The information is out there, if we choose to seek it out and educate ourselves. The choice is ours, unfortunately, we sometimes choose the greater of two evils out of our own ignorance.


“Drainage.”, International Pipe Trades Joint Training Committee, Inc. Washington D.C. (2001);1-5, 51-52,161-166, Print.

“Related Science.” International Pipe Trades Joint Training Committee, Inc., Washington D.C. (2001). Pg. 139, 142-143, Print.

“Water Supply.” International Pipe Trades Joint Training Committee, Inc., Washington D.C.(2001). Pg. 7-12, Print.

Cunningham, M.A., Cunningham, W.P. “Environmental Science: A Global Concern.” 13th ed.McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. 380, 408-410, 412-413, 415-422 Print.

Allen, A.E., Halley-Henderson, M.A., Hass C.N. “Clinical Composition of Bottled MineralWater”. Vol. 44 Issue 2. Mar/Apr 1989. Web.

Blette, V. “Drinking Water Public Right-to-know Requirements in the United States”. Journal of Water and Health. IWA Publishing. Washington D.C. 2008. Pg. 1-9. Web.


—Chlorine is added to the raw as it enters each plant. Chlorine kills microorganisms such as bacteria, protozoa, and viruses that may cause illness in humans. Chlorine also prevents the growth of algae at the treatment plant that may interfere with treatment of water and cause taste and odor problems. Enough chlorine is added to maintain a residual of 1 part per million or residual chlorine in water after filtration. A chlorine residual is needed to prevent re-growth of bacteria in the piping network otherwise known as the distribution system.


—Alum (aluminum sulfate) is added to the water to destabilize natural fine particulate matter suspended in water. This process in known as coagulation. These particles enter water through land erosion, airborne contaminants, decay of natural organic matter such as plants and animal wastes, and discharges resulting from human activities. The impurities found in water suspensions consist of charged colloids (colloid – a very small solid suspended in water which varies in size, density and electric charge) ranging in size from 5 nm to 1 um and particulates greater than 0.5 mm. Most of these particles will not settle by gravity due to their charge and because they are lighter than water (their density is less than water). The addition of alum causes these particles and colloids to clump together to form heavier particles which will settle in water.

——Alum is added quickly to the water at the plants using mechanical mixers. This process is known as Rapid Mix. After passing through the Rapid Mix process, the water travels through flocculation basins where it is gently stirred by slow moving paddles. Gentle mixing brings small particles into contact so that they will collide, stick together, and grow to a size that will readily settle. These large particles are referred to as floc. Formation of proper floc is necessary for particles to be removed during sedimentation and filtration.


 —After flocculation, the water and floc moves slowly through large basins known as sedimentation or settling basins. The water moves very slowly through these basins due to their large size. This allows the floc to settle to the bottom of the basin. The floc that falls to the bottom of the basins is collected into a hopper by large rotating scrapers where it is removed several times daily by the plant operators. Clear water above the floc layer (referred to as treatment residuals) flows out of the sedimentation basin and to the filters. Removal of particles in the sedimentation basin improves the operation of the filters that comprises the next treatment process after sedimentation.


The sedimentation process removes many particles including clay and silt based turbidity, natural organic matter, and other associated impurities. These impurities include microbial contaminants, toxic metals, synthetic organic chemicals, iron, manganese and humic substances. Humic substances come from soil are produced within natural water and sediments by chemical and biological processes such as the decay of vegetation. Removal of humic substances from drinking water is desirable since they form disinfection byproducts when chlorine is added to the water. At high concentrations, disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes are a public health concern.


—The last step in purifying the water is accomplished by passing water through a bed of sand and gravel. As water filters through the sand, the remaining particles of suspended matter are trapped in the sand bed. In the filtration process, water flows on top of the sand bed and travels through the bed until it is collected at the bottom in under-drains. Filtered water flows from the under-drains into clear-wells or filtered water reservoirs. The rate of filtration is regulated using controllers. The filters must be cleaned periodically as material becomes trapped in the filter and reduces the rate of filtration. Cleaning of the filters is also needed to prevent solids from passing through the filters into the filtered water. To keep the filters operating at their best performance, the filter operators take each filter out of service so they can be back-washed. Back-washing cleans the filters by forcing clean water backward through the sand to remove the solids which are deposited in waste drains. Filters are back-washed on a rotating schedule to ensure that plants can continuously operate.


Fluoride is added to the filtered water at each of the plants to reduce tooth decay. The plants maintain fluoride levels of approximately one part per million in the treated water.


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