*Got Water?* (Today's Options)
Greetings to you it is good to be with you again. Disclaimer: While I believe that the science I refer to here is sound, the conclusions and opinions discussed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or organization that I am or have been affiliated with. Our subject today is water. The kind that you drink. Chances are that you may even have your own private supply somewhere on your person or in your car. Many of you are probably carrying a container of "Bottled Water" around so that you don't have to drink from a tap or fountain that distributes that often demeaned "horrible, vile" tap water! But why? What have you heard?
Are you one of the millions of people that believe that just because water is neatly packaged in a plastic bottle that it must somehow be better, safer, and more pure than municipal tap water? What evidence do you have for such a belief?
So here is the main question: In general "which potable (drinkable) water is the safest product on the market today? The answer? "Municipal Tap Water", (Hands down). But with a little "trickery and doublespeak" there is big money to be garnered in the name of this "used to be almost free" vital commodity. Let's briefly deal with why I say that municipal tap water is the safest product. Let's look at a typical "Bottled Water Product Advertisement":
*Sparkling Yellow Splash*
(Natural Spring Water)
*The Refreshing Refresher*
"Fresh from the Underground Springs of the Crusty Mountains"
"Here's To Your Health!"
Bottled Water like this can cost you many times what tap water does. Then why is it so popular?
If I could show you where you may be wrong in choosing bottled water over tap water, would you change your preference? My experience tells me probably not easily. And not only because there has been so much false propaganda about the poor quality of municipal water. One of the main reasons that the average bottled water drinker won't easily change his/her habit is that the bottled water drinker has too much money. Here are a few primary examples of this fact.
1) "The Board Head". This is a real person. I'm telling you about him because he is one of the best examples of the point that I'm trying to make. As head of department in a public health industry, I often met with people of all income levels, because all people, regardless of income must use water. One such (unnamed) individual lives in a very affluent suburb of a large metropolitan city where five and six million dollar estates are common. This man is the "Chairman of the Board" of a very successful company. We'll call him "The Board Head".
One morning I received a call from the Mayor's office asking me to visit a rather "special" customer who had a water complaint. I don't normally go on complaint calls, but as I said this was a "special" situation. If you're one of those people who believe that all people are treated equally then you've been spending your life hiding in a cave. Well my assistant and I were driven to what appeared to be a very nice "Marbled" home in this quite affluent suburb. We rang the doorbell and soon a person dressed in a T-shirt and blue jeans answered the door. "Is Mr. or Mrs. ......home?" (I asked) Well the person (who turned out to be the attendant) said "I don't know sir, this is the barn!" Well, both I and my assistant (a cum laude chemistry graduate of John Carroll University) were "flabbergasted!" That was the finest "barn" either of us had ever seen! So we got back into the car and drove what seemed like another mile around a winding road until we came to a castle-like estate surrounded by what appeared to be a "moat". All this imposing mansion needed to resemble a medieval campus was several "cannons" aimed at the "ramp" we had to drive over to reach the house.
Upon ringing the "right" doorbell at the six-garaged home we were pleasantly greeted by a maid with a strikingly beautiful British accent. We were "ushered" into a receiving-entry room where we were "struck" by a life-sized picture of "The Board Head, his wife, along with The President of the United States and his wife!" The maid then showed me the water problem. It seems that at a party given recently by the hosts, someone had attempted to use the water from a "tap" somewhere in the home and the water came out "red". Well, since "The Board Head" and his wife had "Bottled Water" trucked in, they never use the tap water, not even for bathing!
I discussed (at length) the attributes and ramifications of "Tap VS. Bottled Water" with "The Board Head" and his wife and they promised me that in the future they would make some adjustment to their current practice of trucking in water. (Only for elemental use, that is). In the meantime I promised to have street crews and water specialists "clean up" their existing water clarity problems. I further instructed them that putting any device, softener, or purifier on the existing incoming water line would eliminate any responsibility that the water company has for the customer's water quality. That is because once doing that, the customer has become his own water department, and subsequently becomes his own (in-house) resident chemist.
A couple of days later, I received a call from "The Board Heads" wife. It went something like this "Mr. Tartt?" Yes Mrs.....? (I said staidly) "Would you please remove these ugly men and their noisy trucks from my driveway? Why certainly Mrs....! Might I ask why?...Well for one thing, these "kinds" of people don't fit the atmosphere of this neighborhood, and they are "scaring" the children and the dogs! We'd rather just have the "red water". Please get them out of here! (True story).
Not long after this I was giving a science talk (as I often do at the request of colleges, universities, medical groups, country clubs, etc. (email@example.com) at yet another gathering of the affluent at one of their social clubs when I noticed that Mrs. "Board Head" was in attendance. She was (before I took to the podium) sitting and discussing of all things "cars" with one of her "peers". She was saying "I don't like (a certain class of $60,000 luxury automobiles) Why? the respondent said. Because when you try and open the door, it won't open! Respondent: It won't open? Well it seems that they have "electric" doors and the battery was dead and so the door would not open! Respondent: How could the battery go dead on a new $60,000 automobile? Well I guess we never used it and it just "sat around" for the better part of a year because *we forgot we had it!* " Now I ask you, how rich does one have to be, to be able to *forget* that you own such a vehicle? Do you really think she's ever gonna drink tap water? I know a few psychologist's that would love to interview her!
A month or so later I decided to take a drive to check on the water decision made by my now new friend "The Board Head". When I drove up to his house I saw an immense structure connected to his incoming water line. Inside the house basement was this imposing array of computerized lights and "gizmo's" surrounding his new "Drinking Water Plant!" Consisting of water softeners, Reverse Osmosis systems, Carbon and Membrane filters, and what looked like the "Space Shuttle" ready for "take off". He told me that he purchased this system at the "behest" of his wife. Well, to make a long story short, I quietly removed myself from the scene and went back to the lab. In these cases the old adage "A man convinced against his will, Is an unconvinced man" comes to mind. In these cases there is absolutely nothing that will convince them to drink the same water that everyone else is drinking. These examples are made so that you can see that even many of the "upper crust" with access to the best available technology, information, and assistance possible still have no idea what they are doing to themselves when it comes to drinking water.
Now for a few technical "common sense" reasons to choose tap water over bottled or personally "adjusted" water:
First of all you don't want to drink "softened" tap water. The softening process exchanges sodium (salt) for calcium in the softening process and so it contains upwards of ten times the sodium of tap water. If you own a water softener and you drink this water, have you ever noticed that when "Grandma or Grandpa come to visit you they become "dizzy" or Ill? Their condition could be caused or aggravated by the high sodium content in softened water. If you must, place the water softener in the line after the first tap, before the softener. Run this line throughout the house to points that you intend to supply with "drinking" water. Use these taps for drinking and cooking. I won't even bathe in soft water because your skin is your largest organ and your body will absorb sodium through your skin from the soft water. Don't believe this? Take a drink of unsoftened tap water and then shake some salt into your hands or feet and rub slightly. Shortly, you will be able to "taste" the salt in your mouth!
Another problem with water softeners (In my opinion) is the fact that they not only use salt to recharge exchange resin, but they also generally use a carbon filter to remove the chlorine from the water that's put in by the water company. What's chlorine? Chlorine (and filtration) is your only protection from water-borne disease! Before the advent of using chlorine in 1861 to disinfect the water supplies many thousands of people worldwide died from preventable water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A. President James K. Polk was among those who died from water-borne illness. 3,500 died in Chicago, 4,500 in St. Louis, 3,000 in New Orleans, Thousands in New York, and hundreds during the gold rush to California days. Sounds like a "nightmare" doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's all true. But let's get back to more information on water softeners and "purifiers".
As I said most of this equipment at times incorporates a carbon filter. (as do many smaller portable units) Carbon removes chlorine on contact which many people claim has a somewhat offensive taste to them. (after all these years) Remember, I told you that this chlorine is the only thing standing between you and some pretty bad microbes and organisms. Here's a hypothetical scenario that I've seen happen more than once. This can happen anywhere in your system that employs the use of a carbon filter in a place that is accessible to human hands. (Like a tap) Let's say someone (like "The Board Head") goes out and purchases this "beautiful" big "Thing" that screws onto his cold water tap. "Hot Dog!" Now he's really gonna have some "great" water to drink! (No more common water for him!) He polishes and "shines" it up, screws it on, puts on the carbon filter and he's in business! Next week his six year old son is eating a hamburger, and he wants a drink of water, so he climbs up on a chair, turns on the water and fills his glass. While trying to "climb" down from the chair, he loses his balance and he "grabs" his Dad's "beautiful" thing that's screwed onto the tap to keep from falling. However, on his fingers was a little "hamburger" grease. This grease just barely "touched" the tip of the tap. Well no one saw him, and even if they did no one would have probably thought anything about it. Anyway they were getting ready to go on vacation for a few weeks, so they ate and left the house.
Normally, there would be at least a "trace" of chlorine in the tap water. This might have "inhibited" what was about to happen. But there was no chlorine in any of the water in their house because *Dad* had removed it with his "Beautiful Big Thing!" Well what we now had on/in his kitchen tap was a "nutrient" (hamburger grease) and water, and a "big wet carbon filter!" Well in the few weeks that they were on vacation, microbes infested the filter (everything likes carbon, especially microbes) all animal life is carbon based (including us). Well atypical microbes (innocent and others?) concentrated, and reproduced and within weeks they had "marched" throughout the house and had almost reached a "Typhoid" type concentration/infestation! Well, the family came home, and of course could not wait to drink from that "Beautiful Big Thing" that was screwed on the tap......And guess what? Everyone got very sick. Fortunately for them, (as a favor) I was made aware of the situation and had seen this problem before and immediately took the appropriate action. This guy (and others) take their lives and the lives of loved ones into their hands every day with foolish, unwise, ill-informed decisions.
Keep in mind that the claims made by some bottled water companies that their water comes from "natural, or underground pure springs" may be disingenuous. I submit to you that no matter where your "underground spring comes up from", it had to "go into" the ground somewhere! And wherever that point was/is then every bird, beaver, and bear in the vicinity just "loved" to drink, wallow, bathe, and $#&% in it! "But the water tastes so good" (You say?). That's one of my points. Water is supposed to be "odorless, tasteless, and colorless. Water is supposed to be refreshing. It refreshes by rejuvenating (stimulating) the Olfactory system. But If your water *tastes* good then there is something in your water that isn't water! But what? Well...., I could not certify that some of these bottled waters are safe for human consumption. Some could not pass the standards set forth by the "Safe Drinking Water Act". Add to this the fact that some bottled water comes in plastic bottles in which "Bisphenol A", a chemical that has been linked to hormonal imbalance and small testicles has been detected. This is just one more reason that I will not "endorse" this product.
Drinking soft, bottled, or otherwise self adjusted water, is a risk. Now in certain cases such as kidney patients, and those suffering from compromised immune systems some doctor recommended adjustments may need to be made. I am not talking about Doctor supervised programs. But in general? No! Below is the basic difference between municipal tap water and bottled water. These differences have been determined by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and NBS (National Bureau of Standards) certified laboratories. I cannot in this writing tell you how involved and difficult it is to acquire and maintain this type of laboratory certification. (I maintained both chemical and microbiological certifications uninterrupted for over twenty years). Suffice it to say that I do not believe that any bottled water company could afford the type of equipment necessary nor the level of personnel required or educated enough to operate it. Any uncertified chemical company can issue or give you a chemical report of testing results, but only test results from a laboratory that is *certified* to run the *specific tests* that you require can testify in court and give legality to the accuracy of their results. All of the following test results under the Municipal side of this chart are from labs whose people and equipment are "certified" to guarantee accuracy. Municipal systems with millions of customers paying an average monthly water bill of let's say $50.00 can afford to pay the salaries of "top" scientists and the finest equipment on the market. Most bottled water companies on the other hand do not have these resources. Here's are some of the differences as I see them.
|Average Municipal Tap Water Analyses||Average Bottled Water Analyses|
|Gas Chromatography - And Mass||?|
|Atomic Absorption Analysis||?|
|To Include: (But Not Limited to)|
|Volatile Organics||(Some) of These Yearly|
|Inorganics and specifically:|
|Haloacetic acids (5)||"|
|Haloacetic Nitriles (And Others)|
|Class "A" Wet Chemistry Parameters||?|
|For A Total of *98* Chemistry tests, and||?|
|A complete (Certified) Battery of Microbial analyses||Coliform/Weekly|
|Performed five days/Wk. In Large Cities this adds up to Many Hundreds of Samples Analyzed Per Month.|
|Often Includes Giardia and Cryptosporidium Profiles||?|
|Plant Operators Test The Out Going Water 7 days/Wk/365||?|
|Days/Yr Every Two Hours For Chlorine Content,|
|(Disinfectant) Turbidity Measurement (Water Clarity),|
|And Ph. (Acidity/Basicity).|
|Critical Computerized Data Systems Operation For||?|
|Record Keeping and Interpretation of results.|
Besides being certified for both Chemistry and Microbiology, I also had to have a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to purchase reagent grade chemicals and special alcohol that "inhibits" the growth of microorganisms without killing them so that we could "study" their tendencies to survive and proliferate. In some cases we kept various strains of bacteria alive in microbial slants for years to accomplish this! Also, we were not allowed to "buy" chemicals already prepared because the instruments that they were prepared with by outside companies may not have met NBS/ISO standards. So we had to "make" all of our solutions ourselves from "scratch" and then "standardize" them with "class A" glassware, and primary standards. All equipment (like Mettler Balances, and Spectrophotometers) were regularly standardized with either "class "S" weights, NBS thermometers, Certificates of Performance and or certifiable correction factors for all timers! Recertification of all personnel and instrumentation takes place every three years, so on-going education involving the latest laboratory tests and techniques must be provided on a regular basis. Every chemist in the lab will be continuously retested by State Science Examiners for proficiency and understanding of all certified analyses. In addition to this every three year exam, State Scientists also conduct "Unannounced Attack" survey's in which a lab is "blindsided" at arbitrary times and "caught" unaware! During these critical survey's the examiners attempt to find anything wrong with the lab's procedures or practices, e.g. records, lack of expertise, etc. If irregularities are found, the lab is "instantly" decertified and loses its certification to perform tests on the spot! If this happens, another certified lab (if there is one) must do their work for them until they can correct all deviations and then schedule and pass another "full blown" survey! In my opinion no bottled water company could survive this level of scrutiny. In this public health industry you either "do it right" or you will not be allowed to "do it at all". Even though one may have Ph.D.in chemistry, he/she is not allowed to work as a chemist without first being certified. It's like a Lawyer who cannot pass the Bar. He has a Law Degree, but he can't practice Law. The lab supervisor must also first take (what used to be) a three day exam usually at the local university and pass that before his lab and those working under him are even "considered" for a full certification survey. This is a public health industry.
I Just Won't Drink Tap Water! "What Can I Do"
Why would anyone pay up to 2,000 times the cost of a certified safe drinking water product for one without or with fewer safeguards? Bottled water is regulated by the less "stringent" FDA's Federal, Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act. and not by the EPA'S Safe Drinking Water Act. (SDWA). While I am not an MD. here are a few things that I suggest you can do (if you must) to safely improve your tap water. If you don't like the chlorinated taste, get yourself a large glass jar and then fill it with tap water. Put it in the refrigerator with the "top off" overnight. In the morning, the chlorine taste will have dissipated and you'll have a good certifiable "bottled water tasting" supply of drinking water. Put this water into a "beautiful, expensive" portable metal drinking water bottle and then take this water with you! This way you can "feel good" about yourself and no one will know that you're drinking tap water! Also, I suggest you avoid ice when you order soft drinks and water at restaurants because it's almost impossible to actually "sterilize" ice makers and microbes can often build up in ice machines. One last thing, If you just cannot bring yourself to drink water straight from the tap and simply must have one of those "Big Shiny Things" screwed onto your tap water faucet please remember to: "Change the filter more often than is suggested in the instruction manual". Some of these filters are supposed to be changed according to instructions every thirty days (or so) to every six months (depending on use). In our lab we "exhausted" some of these filters in less than twenty-four hours! Atypical (aaytypical) bacteria that are "everywhere" can concentrate down into exhausted filter material
and then eventually "morph" into more potent and ultimately dangerous forms, so don't forget to change the filter often. Taste tests done in the lab indicate that people tend to pick "tap" water over the far more expensive bottled water that they normally drink. (When they don't know which ones they are drinking). This indicates (to me) that the power of advertising and "peer pressure" make bottled water seem far more "appetizing" than it actually is. And for once and for all "Stop French Kissing Your Dogs and Cats!" They are "animals"; they are not actual members of your family! They can carry many diseases that are transmittable from animal to human and recent studies have shown links to "Giardiasis, MRSA, and even HIV!" (dogs have immunity to HIV, but humans do not) I can't tell you how many times that myself and medical professionals have found that the link to a family's Giardiasis disease actually came from "Rover" or a vacation in which the family "jumped into one of those "sparkling babbling brooks, rivers, or creeks and involuntarily swallowed some "Giardia" or other microbes from the mouth or rear-end of some animal. (or an infected human for that matter). One does not catch disease from tap water! Henri W. Tartt, Chemist
As an aside, let me mention that almost every time a "Sewage Treatment Truck" is parked on a neighborhood street, the local water department tends to get complaint calls from people saying things like "The water killed the dog or bird, there's sewage in the water, and my Grandmother got pregnant!" (and the like). Listen, the sewage department is not even remotely connected to your drinking water system. The sewage flows to the sewage treatment center by gravity it has no pumps! Nothing can get into a drinking water line because it is under high pressure! The "slightest" leak in a water line and eventually you'll have a street full of water! This knowledge should help to give you more confidence in your local water system and remind you to stay healthy by not seeking to share saliva with your (non human) animals!
And there you have it. Forget your dreams of drinking from icy melted glaciers, and pure translucent mountain streams. These rivers and streams are full of dangerous microbes, viruses, diseases, and bad organisms like Fecal Coliform, Streptococcus, Giardia Lamblia, and Cryptosporidium. (All very real health risks) Recent news reports about bottled water have some of it coming from your municipal water company anyway. (If you're lucky). But once the product is touched or altered in any way, it "loses" its certification as "safe" from the water company and they will no longer test it because as I've said before, you have now become your own chemist. Before then, if you are dissatisfied or unsure about your water quality in any way, the company will visit your home and sample your water free of charge. Try that with a bottled water company! Oh well, you've got money to burn, right? Oh yeah, if any of you see a bright "mushroom cloud" hovering over a very rich suburb in your area, don't panic, "The Board Head" (or one of similar persuasion) must be "at it again". "Tap, soft, or Bottled?" The choice is yours. "Here's to your health" Stay well.
Yours In Water Quality,
- Henri W. Tartt
Henri W. Tartt
Supervising Chemist &
Chief of Microbiology
City of Cleveland, Ohio (Retired)