/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Why bother buying bottled water?

Rows of bottled water

I have a confession: I like bottled water. I’m partial to a bottle of the fizzy stuff, but I’m also keen on a chilled bottle of still. But am I the only one who still occasionally buys my water in a bottle?

I know I might be vilified by the 69% of you who voted that you don’t buy bottled water. And I know it goes against my green principles (although I always recycle, if that helps). But it’s just so convenient! It’s all just excuses, excuses.

I don’t buy bottled water very often, and like many of you who commented on our last post on this topic, I often reuse the bottle. But after a while they start to taste a little bit – well – plasticky.

I do have a nice reusable metal bottle I bought when I went to the Paralympics as the prices in the Olympic Park were extortionate, but it has an annoying habit of leaking inside my bag. Convo commenter Nicky has a similar habit to me:

‘I too buy a bottle of water and keep refilling it from the tap. The seals on the bottles seem to hold better than other ones so it doesn’t leak all over my bag. Once the bottle is so out of shape it wont stand up – then I replace it.’

Why buy bottled?

I know I’m wasting money, as I’ve already paid my water company to provide water to my home. But isn’t it the convenience I’m paying for?

It’s not that I think tap water is unsafe – I know it’s not. It can taste a bit weird in hard water areas, but a slightly funny taste never hurt anyone. So I was interested to see recent research that implies bottled water could be less safe than tap water.

Apparently, manufacturers of bottled water only need to test their water once a month, whereas tap water is tested daily. I’d always assumed bottled water was as rigorously tested as eau-de-tap, but apparently that’s not the case.

Green gripes

Of course, an unavoidable problem with buying bottled water is the extra waste created by its packaging. To combat this problem, the Australian town of Bundanoon completely banned sales of bottled water in 2009 and, more recently, a US town in Massachusetts banned the sale of bottled water in units smaller than one litre.

We all have our reasons for buying (or not buying) bottled water. I’m interested to hear from those of you brave enough to own up to this habit – why do you buy it?

Comments
Profile photo of banjo
Member

I keep a 0.5 litre bottle by my bed. When I knock it on the floor it doesn’t break and I don’t get a flood of water all over the carpet.

It is also portable (and potable) when on the move.

Member
Kirsten says:
4 January 2013

I only buy bottled water if I am out and about and am thirsty. I then keep the bottle and refill it from the tap. I am lucky that the water in East Lothian is lovely. Some colleagues at work object to the occasional chloride taste necessitating my work place to have a water cooler. I think this is a ridiculous waste of energy and resources. It’s a western fad and indulgence.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

Kirsten, you are lucky in East Lothian to have tap water from one of the most up to date and technologically advances water treatment and distribution networks in the world, which benefits from recently renewed water mains and good quality raw water reservoirs in the Southern Uplands and Pentland Hills.
See history here
Current info here
Not all public water supplies are that good, and there is always a risk of pollution incidents or system failure resulting in contamination events. Scottish Water has upgraded many of its treatment plants to deal with the particular problem of the gastrointestinal parasites cryptosporidium and giardia, but still has problems delivering safe tap water in some areas.
Scotland benefits from abundant surface water resources in clean highland and upland environments which provide more than enough water for the relatively small population, and therefore Scottish Water does not use recycled water in any of its supply systems, but in some cases (for the cities of Perth and Aberdeen, on the rivers Tay and Dee, for example) water is drawn from rivers in which the raw water quality is very variable and does include some sewage effluent from upstream towns and a lot of agricultural run-off.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

Try those links again for history of East Lothian Water Supply and current water quality:

http://www.el4.org.uk/el4-cd/water_supply.html
http://www.scottishwater.co.uk/you-and-your-home/water-quality/waterqualitysearch

Profile photo of dave newcastle
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The bottled water industry should be shut down.Tap water is safe and this has been the case for many decades.The industry wastes energy in the following areas: Manufacture of plastic bottles which require oil as starting material.Transport of (heavy) bottled water around the UK and probably around Europe using oil as diesel(.If any of it is being transported by air the Government should put a stop to it now).Further energy is wasted in the form of electricity and gas used in the premises which process and bottle the water.There are no health benefits of bottled water.It is a rip-off in hotels and other eateries.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I completely agree – and bottled water must be one of the best examples of our wasteful society – but Jo has asked for comments from those who do buy water.

Profile photo of Jennifer Davis
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We’re happy to hear opinions from all ends of the spectrum, whether you buy bottled water or not. In fact, we’re quite interested to hear from people who don’t buy bottled water. Sorry if the question at the end of the Convo made it sound like we only wanted opinions from those who do buy bottled water!

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

OK Dave let’s apply this despotic Government intervention principle across the board and shut down all industries that use plastic raw materials or packaging and ‘waste energy’ and resources producing and transporting non-essential goods or services for which we have a satisfactory and safe low-tech alternative: Starting with the entire soft drinks and alcoholic beverages industries, this would include, for example, nearly all packaged and processed food industries, dairy industries and farming, a large portion of the textiles and clothing industry, the toy industry, computing and electronics industries, the pharmaceutical industry, the entire plastics industry and at least three quarters of the manufacturing sector generally, and also the travel and tourism industries, etc… actually you would have us shut down the entire oil-based economy of the free world as we know it today… We can all go back to the dark ages, ride horses instead of cars, grow our own veggies and keep our own cows and chickens in our back yards, live poor and die young under the rule of his excellency Emperor David of Newcastle.
The health benefits of drinking bottled water may be debatable, but there are many consumer products on sale everywhere that definitely offer no health benefits or are outright harmful to consumers, such as alcohol, tobacco, Coca-Cola Pepsi and innumerable other fizzy pop products, sweets, coffee, etc. A government that would ban bottled water must ban them all!

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Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

‘wavechange’ … seriously?! You agree with Emperor Dave? What can I say but it’s the same kind of blind illogical follow-my-leader mentality that just got Donald Trump elected President and Commander in Chief of the United States….. Holy sh…. people need to start thinking straight before expressing an opinion or electing a buffoon!

Profile photo of wavechange
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Good morning Doug. Would you like to declare your commercial interest?

Profile photo of John Ward
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Doug – You have taken a quite rational proposal by Dave, that many would support, and attempted through mockery and a ridiculous extension to apply it to numerous other items for which that would not be a rational project at the present time [but could be in the future for some of them]. If you cannot address the proposition is a responsible and courteous fashion, without hyperbolical rhetoric, I am not sure why anyone should take any notice of your opinions.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Wavechange – I assumed Doug Bates was the same person as “Doug at geodivining.com” who has commented many times previously. A quick look at the company’s website [‘About GeoDivining International’] confirms that that is the case.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I had spotted that before posting, John.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I happen to think buying small bottles of water for daily use is an expensive option when you could fill a bottle from your tap. I also think regularly buying still water is a little pointless, but I do buy sparkling water to mix with cordials, because I like the fizz. So if people choose to buy bottled water that is their choice, as in other things they buy that others might not approve of. But that is a personal view and we all have the freedom to make a choice. I feel free to make suggestions but don’t want to impose my views on anyone else.

Profile photo of banjo
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Another place to use bottled water is next to the computer. Again, safety.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Can you please explain why having bottled water beside a computer is a safety benefit?

Profile photo of banjo
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wavechange, if you’ve ever worked in IT support you will know that the only thing worse than a mug of coffee next to a computer is the mug that put it there. They get spilled over keyboards, mice, floppies, carpets. All sorts of potential disasters.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I understand now, though it’s probably not a safety issue.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I like fizzy soft drinks, so occasionally buy carbonated water to make them – nice with elderflower codial, home-made lemonade for example. Otherwise, what a waste of money; I understand most bottled water is less pure than much tap water – so if you lke water then, as others above have said, fill your own bottle. You can always put it through a water filter first.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Bottled ‘still’ water can contain remarkably high numbers of bacteria. They are usually harmless but I would not be keen on letting children or the elderly drink it. Perrier withdrew their bottled water with a hint of benzene. 🙂

Profile photo of Clint Kirk
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This reminds me, I once saw a bottle of mineral water that said on the back label, “Warning: do not refill this bottle with tap water as then it will no longer be sterile.” I wish I could remember which brand of water that was. (I only ever buy bottled water out of desperation when I’m out and thirsty.)

Profile photo of wavechange
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I am not aware that any bottled water is sterile. Here is a rather alarmist article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7763038/Bottled-water-contains-more-bacteria-than-tap-water.html#

In general, fizzy water contains less bacteria because the dissolved carbon dioxide lowers the pH (makes it more acidic).

Profile photo of Doug geodivining
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In all Food Standards compliant bottling lines the bottles are rinsed and sterilised immediately before filling. This is to ensure that there are no particles, bacteria or mould spores from the surface and ambient environment left in the bottles.
Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water sources and bottling lines are rigorously tested to ensure that no harmful bacteria or parasites are in the water, and though they are permitted to contain small numbers of harmless bacteria found everywhere in the groundwater environment, these types of bacteria are not at all pathogenic.
When you re-use a bottle that has been opened and used, it is no longer sterile in the sense that it is likely to have some potentially pathogenic bacteria and some mould spores in it.

The whole concept of these bottled waters is that they are from sources of sufficient purity to bottle, sell and consume the water safely, without any treatment (for Natural Mineral Waters) or with minimal permitted treatments (for Spring Waters). Neither type may be sterilised in any way.
This is the purest drinking water that Nature provides, and that is the reason why millions of people choose to buy and drink it in preference to heavily processed and sterilised tap waters from impure or recycled sources.

All Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water producers have safeguards and careful testing procedures in place to ensure that the water at the filling stage is as pure and as safe as possible.

Products that originate from well-proven groundwater sources in unspoiled natural environments where potential contamination risk is minimal can be trusted to be consistently wholesome, microbiologically pure and chemically stable.
Products that originate from dominantly agricultural or semi-urban environments are less trustworthy as the risks of possible contamination are real and have to be guarded against.
Products marketed as ‘table water’ are nothing but filtered tap water, no different from what you would get by running your own tap water through an activated carbon filter.

Nowadays many lowland and urban aquifers are becoming increasingly polluted with nitrates and other chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. drilling and installation of vertical soakaways is apparently permitted (Madness!) and there are already thousands of them gradually polluting our aquifers, such as the chalk of southern England, and yet it is an offence to knowingly pollute groundwater. Thames Water routinely injects treated river water into the chalk aquifer during the winter months in order to have a greater reserve for the summer months.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Plastic bottles are sterilised before filling? Heat and steam sterilisation would damage them, leaving only chemical treatment or gamma irradiation if they were to be sterilised. There would not be much point in sterilising the bottles because the mineral water is not sterile and contains bacteria. As I mentioned earlier, still bottled water can contain much higher numbers of bacteria than tap water. Bottled water is not chlorinated to prevent this, so perhaps the public needs to be told it should be boiled before it is given to infants or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Whether it’s tap water or bottled water, we do indeed need to guard our water supplies from chemical contamination. Don’t forget that Perrier had a problem with benzene in its bottled water.

I don’t know what ‘microbiologically pure and chemically stable’ means in the context of bottled water. It looks like a phrase that might be used in marketing.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

wavechange, these terms in context are pretty self explanatory and not knowing what they mean only betrays limited education and research in this arena… I quote in context, “Products that originate from well-proven groundwater sources in unspoiled natural environments where potential contamination risk is minimal can be trusted to be consistently wholesome, microbiologically pure and chemically stable.”
‘microbiologically pure’ means the water source contains no pathogenic micro-organisms (bacteria or parasites that could potentially be infectious and cause illness), and is therefore considered pure and wholesome drinking water.
‘chemically stable’ means that chemical analysis of the water source has shown that it is characteristically stable within small margins of natural variability, usually less than 20% of the mean value, for all major ions (Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Carbonate, Sulphate, Nitrate, Silicate, etc.) and trace elements (Aluminium, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, etc.), electrical conductivity, temperature, pH, etc.; and therefore of very well-established and consistent known quality.
These hallmarks of source purity are regulatory requirements for the registration and sale of Natural Mineral Waters. No treatment or filtration is allowed.
This means that when you drink Natural Mineral Water you can be assured that it is natural water that has come from a pure source free of pollution, pure enough to be safe to drink without any form of chemical treatment, filtration or sterilisation.

The Public Water Supply regulations are the complete opposite to this, as the water sources are hugely varied and can be any kind of groundwater or surface water, even sea water, most often microbiologically contaminated and chemically polluted recycled water and surface waters are used, and all kinds of chemical additives, flocculants, coagulants, screens and filters may be used to remove sediment, pollutants and impurities; but as long as the chemical and physical treatment, filtration, and sterilisation processes applied to cleaning up the water end up producing water that is clear and sterile, and conforms to less stringent water-chemistry standards, it is acceptable for public water supply.
This means that when you drink tap water you can be assured that no matter where it has been before, even if it has been recycled through sewage treatment systems, it has finally been cleaned up and sterilised to a regulatory standard that ensures it is safe to drink it again without risk of it making you ill. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good to drink and for absolute certain, it is never the same as a good quality Natural Mineral Water.
Tap water often contains large numbers of dead micro-organisms and residual chemicals including traces of a myriad of toxic elements and organic substances that, in the fine analysis, can chart its history.

Profile photo of banjo
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wavechange, water and mains electricity are A Bad Thing.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Absolutely, but keyboards, mice, etc. operate at low voltage. Coffee and bottled water can cause a lot of damage but there is little danger of a shock.

Profile photo of VynorHill
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I agree with the basic thrust of the comments but.. It is sometimes necessary to buy a drink on the go, when one has either forgotten to, or not had the chance to, bring one along. The choice on the shelf is either water or fizz of some kind or fruit juice. According to this 200ml pack of pineaple juice, it contains nearly a quarter of ones sugar RDA in one carton (21.7grams – 24% to be exact). They ladle spoons of sugar in to the fizz too. A litre of water is just about that and nothing much else. So, yes, bottled water is wasteful, but until they put taps in the supermarket it’s what I’d buy – but only occasionally. Carbonated water isn’t usually available from the tap and this, added to a favourite tipple, is a good combination. Remember the old glass soda syphons that one could top up from the shop?

Member
par ailleurs says:
5 January 2013

‘Until they put taps in the supermarket’. Yes, this is exactly what I’ve found in France in Auchan and perhaps other supermarkets. You shop in a giant supermarket and can stop and have a drink of filtered, cold water from a paper cup. Result-everyone’s happier and refreshed and therefore they continue shopping and spending money. No need to buy a bottle of water, at least while shopping. I have to admit though that the French consume vast quantities of bottled eau for no good reason that I can see. Long gone are the days of having dodgy tapwater there so why on earth do they still do it?

Profile photo of lessismore
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What a great idea! I can’t think of anything more unnecessary than bottled water – in this country There seem to be a lot of newcomers to this country who do buy bottled water as a matter of course I do wonder about the poor division of properties and probably illegal building construction that goes on There are laws about this so as to keep our tap water safe

Profile photo of Esther
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Banjo, I understand your safety concerns, but surely nothing obliges you to buy a new bottle each time – why is it not possible to use a refillable bottle ?

I only buy bottled water if there is absolutely no alternative, and will then keep the bottle and re-use it many times. I keep an empty bottle in the car all the time, which I can fill when I need it.

While on the subject, I would like to suggest that Which starts a campaign to oblige stations, airports etc to install drinking fountains where passengers can refill their bottles. This is even happening in some European countries, where it is notoriously difficult to get tap-water to drink when out and about. There would clearly be a lot of support for measures like this, judging by the highest rated comments on this news item on the BBC news website.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20895902

Profile photo of wavechange
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This would be a very good start. I’m not sure how we deal with the vast waste of resources used in providing soft drinks, which are often not very good for health.

Profile photo of banjo
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I DO refill the bottle a few times. Then dump it and get a new one. Not many times, the tops and valves are damned difficult to get clean.

Profile photo of wavechange
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When I was a young child in the ’50s my mother told me not to drink out of a bottle because it was unhygienic. She was right. Her solution was to use a cup or a glass.

Profile photo of Doug geodivining
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I absolutely agree with this in principle, and it seems that most people who do buy bottled water do tend to re-use bottles at least sometimes. In the UK as a nation we buy 33 litres of bottled water per capita each year. Thanks to the generally good quality of UK tap water, our consumption of bottled waters is quite low compared to many other countries.
We don’t even figure in the top 20 consumers. Industry figures show that Mexico as the highest per capita consumption at 243 litres per person per year. Second on the list is Italy with 187, followed by UAE with 153, Belgium and Luxembourg with 148, Germany with 134, France with 132, Spain 124, Lebanon 121, Thailand 114, Hungary 111, Switzerland 108, USA 107, Slovenia 106, Croatia 101, Cyprus 98, Qatar 96, Saudi Arabia 95, Czech Republic 92, Austria 91, Israel 88, and Portugal with 85 litres per person per year… We are down near the bottom of the table at 33.
(Sources: European Federation of Bottled Waters and Beverage Marketing Corporation)

Apart from the good quality of our tap waters relative to most other countries, the main reason why bottled water consumption is so low in UK is the relatively high popularity of tea and sweet soft drinks as substitutes for water.

Soft drink manufacturers use more packaging, and much more resources to produce their beverages laden with sugar, sweeteners, flavourings and preservatives, and these products are bad for our health. If there’s any campaigning to be done here, surely it would be best directed at encouraging people to drink water in preference to fizzy pop.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Perhaps we should look for another Conversation to demonise the soft drink industry Doug. 🙂
I’m very glad that they have not featured in my life. I have my parents to thank for that.

I would not drink tap water in a country where it was not safe to do so.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

EEEEeeewwwww! Esther! That empty bottle you keep in the car must be teeming with bacteria!
As some comments have confirmed not all water fountains in public places are clean or safe, and that can lead to multiple cases of infection, but often the problem is not with water so much as the means of conveyance. You could put pure water into that bottle and there’s a high chance it could make you ill, because every time you drink from a bottle you transfer some oral bacteria to the bottle. All oral bacteria are potentially pathogenic (that’s why good oral hygiene is so important) and when these bacteria are transferred to your bottle they only require water (tick), nutrients (tick), warm temperatures (tick) and time (tick) to multiply into their millions enough to cause infection.
Never re-use plastic bottles. Glass is better but still should be regularly washed.
If you’re that keen on drinking fountains why not carry a small glass (easy to wash regularly) in your handbag rather than the bottle in the car.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Is there a high chance that someone will be ill if they drink from a bottle that has been refilled with tap water in the UK? I would like to see some evidence. If people were becoming sick as a result of refilling water bottles I suspect that the press would be reporting the scandal.

You mention nutrients, so what carbon source are these pathogenic bacteria growing on? I would appreciate evidence to support the statement that “All oral bacteria are potentially pathogenic ….” because I don’t believe it.

Profile photo of Jo Gibney
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Thanks for all your comments everyone.

I would like to see more water fountains in public places. I was pleased they did that at the Paralympics and Olympics. They were different to the ones I remember from primary school days – designed so you could fill a bottle from them.

My gym also has water fountains, though I’ve not used them as I always take my refillable bottle. I will admit I’m not sure how often I would use them in some very public places, having seen how some children were drinking from them! I wonder how safe they are? 😉

Profile photo of Jennifer Davis
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When I was in Rome, I loved that they had water fountains all over the city providing fresh, cold water to fill your bottles with. However, one day in a park, I saw a dog drinking from one. He had his tongue all over the tap! That did put me off a little bit.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

EEEeeew! what else do dogs lick? That’s pathogenic faecal contamination right there, to every person that drank from that fountain after the dog.

Member
Sue Townsend says:
9 January 2013

Yes we buy bottled water (the cheapest) because it is a necessity. We are not connected to mains water and our bore hole pumps up good clean water but with alot of iron in it. The filters struggle to cope with the iron so the water always turns brown as soon as it meets the air, consequently it tastes a bit ‘odd’ and looks disgusting. Will continue to buy the bottled water until we can source a better filter for the pump.

Member

I just wanted to reassure everyone that bottled water is rigorously tested. Bottled water and tap water are two different products which require very different processes to ensure their safety. Tap water can come from a wide range of sources and is chemically treated, and requires regulations for this purpose. Bottled water comes from carefully selected underground sources which are safe to consume at source. Bottled water producers conduct tests at source several times a day, as well as testing every batch of bottled water produced during bottling and before it leaves the plant so it complies with the stringent EU and UK food safety requirements. If these requirements are not met the water cannot be sold. All these daily tests guarantee that for every brand of natural mineral or spring water sold in the UK several hundreds of tests, even thousands, are carried out every year.

Chloe Bilgorri, Co-ordinator, Natural Hydration Council

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Chloe

According to the website the mission statement of the NHC is as follows:
The Natural Hydration Council aims to promote the benefits of hydration in key health areas and continue to help the public, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders understand the role of water. Through engaging, factual and scientific research-based communications, the Natural Hydration Council wants to help people to make informed choices and become advocates of better hydration.

If the NHC wants people to drink more water it should be promoting tap water, which is inexpensive, available to everyone, and very safe. If the NHC has even the slightest consideration of environmental issues, it should be advising us to drink tap water rather than bottled water.

Does the NHC receive any funding from the bottled water or soft drinks industries?

Profile photo of wavechange
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Having looked into this, it appears that the Natural Hydration Council is a trade body with some bottled water producers as members. It’s evident to me that pushing the sales of bottled water is the main aim of NHC, whatever is claimed.

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

Thank you Chloe for making this clear factual statement in the midst of much scaremongering about bottled waters.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Who is scaremongering? We have safe tap water in the UK. Bottling and transporting water simply wastes resources.

By the way, Chloe now works for Thames Water.

Profile photo of dave newcastle
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Chloe, Are you aware that your bottled water is a chemical too? Tap water is also rigourously tested on a daily basis to ensure it is safe and this has has been done for decades.Bottled water is not necessary in the UK.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Dave – it’s called marketing. You only point out what suits your case.

I cannot find this or other press articles on the NHC website:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9775158/Bottled-water-not-as-safe-as-tap-variety.html

Member
Doug Bates says:
21 November 2016

Dave, that Chemical H2O is essential to all life and makes up about 70% of our bodies …
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_water
so your point is?

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Good morning, while we welcome differing opinions on Which? Conversation, can I please remind everyone that in the interests of maintaining a welcoming and healthy debate we encourage you to ensure that comments are polite and align with Community Guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/

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Why do we waste so much on producing, transporting stocking and retailing something that is available literally on tap virtually for free – and probably on average a healthier product. I suppose the main reasons for drinking it is if you like carbonated water for drinks, or if your tap water is not to your taste. and what about those large water bottles used in commercial / office premises – don’t they have mains water?

Member

Drinking water is one of the best ways to hydrate whether you get it from the tap or the bottle. In this country we are very lucky to have such good tap water available. Some people prefer mineral and spring water, which is great if it helps them stay hydrated. Either way, the average Briton drinks less than one glass of water a day, and therefore we encourage consumption of both tap and bottled water – at the end of the day it’s up to the consumer what they choose.

Chloe Bilgorri, Co-ordinator, Natural Hydration Council

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Saying that the average Briton drinks less than one glass of water a day is misleading, Chloe, since we consume water in many other ways. Yes we need to avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, etc. but we can still be adequately hydrated without drinking much water.

We have numerous companies selling nutritional supplements that are not necessary for most people who eat a reasonable diet. I have as much respect for the NHC as for the supplement pushers.

According to your website The Natural Hydration Council will operate with shared values of leadership, integrity, credibility, collaboration, educational quality and inspiration. May I suggest a critical appraisal of your website with respect to integrity, credibility and educational quality.

Please understand that this is not a personal criticism.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I am less than impressed by some of the information on the Natural Hydration Council’s website.

For example, I read that There have been no reported cases of product recalls of bottled water in Great Britain for the last 8 years. That’s odd since there was a recall in Northern Ireland in 2010 because Escherichia coli (which is an indicator of faecal contamination) was detected in a brand bottled water. That must be why NHC has referred to Great Britain here, whereas UK is referred to elsewhere on the website. Careful wording. 🙂 Of course there was the recall of a mere half million bottles of water in 2004 when the chemical bromate was detected above the permissible level, but there is no mention of this.

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I was just thinking. I normally avoid buying bottled water, but when I’m in a restaurant having a romantic meal for two and having just ordered a £20 bottle of wine it just doesn’t feel right to add “… and a jug of tap water, please.” So I reluctantly go for mineral water.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Clint – we seem as a nation to feel awkward about such things. Silly, isn’t it. Just ask for a jug of water in future – I’m sure when you’ve given them a very healthy profit on the wine they won’t mind keeping you hydrated.
Incidentally, does a cup of tea help keep you hydrated? I very rarely drink water.
Wavechange – in all fairness, even tap water suffers from occasional contamination. Wasn’t it South West Water who overdid the aluminium sulphate with some disastrous effects? Nonetheless, I dislike marketing that tries to convince me I need hydrating – are we as a nation suffering from dehydration? Does our normal bodily control not tell us when we are thirsty? Can we not then be trusted to drink something suitable?

Profile photo of wavechange
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You are quite right, Malcolm. The aluminium contamination incident was in the 80s and I used to mention this in lectures to MSc students. Cryptosporidium contamination crops up occasionally too. Sometimes consumers are told to boil water and it’s good practice to do this when making up bottles for babies, irrespective of whether tap water or bottled water is used.

Many people may drink sufficient water but that is not always the case and it is common practice to record fluid intake and output for vulnerable patients in hospital. I know of one case where a patient was allowed to become severely dehydrated and it was a visitor who spotted the problem. I do think it is important to keep a check on young children, the ill and the elderly.

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Clint

Before it became law that restaurants had to make tap water available free-of-charge, I used to feel far too embarrassed to ask. I no longer have any problem in asking for a jug of water. I sometimes explain that drinking tap water is better for the environment, though my motive is mainly to save money.

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I went for a meal in a restaurant this lunchtime and my friends asked for tap water to drink. I was delighted to do the same. We had a nice meal and were adequately hydrated.

After the meal, I learned that this restaurant offers their own bottled water in refillable glass bottles. That’s got to be better than wasting money on single-use plastic bottles. I am glad that someone takes environmental responsibility more seriously than the NHC, and that many ignore the NHC advice not to reuse plastic bottles.

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Just do it! I do I was also really pleased to see Hilary Benn’s family do the same when out for dinner once

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I drank carbonated water for many years instead of other soft drinks. I then had an operation and could not stand the taste thereafter. I then started to chill my own tap water in a plastic bottle and drunk this happily for several more years until I suddenly could not put up with the smell of the water. I was not enjoying it and was drinking less and less as time went on. I was worried about this as I believe we should all drink at least a pint per day so I went back to buying still mineral water. I do not feel guilty about this decision as I would drink tap water if I found it pleasing to my taste buds.

All bottles are recycled and I try and buy water when it’s on special offer.

What is the difference between bottled spring water and bottled mineral water?

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Dont know if you moorons know its free out of the tap

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Nemo says:
7 December 2014

I am surprised to see that there is little mention of products such as the BW400 filters or such other products that do eliminate the taste of chloride from the domestic water supply.We ordered our first kit at the NEC Food show many years ago. Ever since we have used these filters on average using one or two filters per annum. This has been a lot cheaper than having to buy bottled water. We were also able to filter from the kitchen sink all the water used for cooking our food.
The main supplier of the BW400 filters is or was Culligan however we find that it is now more difficult to order this type of product.

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Many opinions have been expressed here so far, some well-informed, and others less so… apart from the digression into the professional ethics of the NHC most of the comments and indeed the questions arising from the original article focus on five chief issues addressed in various ways.

1) The cost of bottled water relative to tap water,
2) The Convenience value and Safety of bottled water,
3) The qualitative experience of drinking bottled waters relative to public tap waters,
4) The differences in the origin and quality of bottled waters relative to public tap waters,
5) The Environmental Cost of the bottled water industry.

I have clear opinions on all these issues, informed by broad professional experience in the water industry and personal experience as a water consumer. I drink both tap water and bottled water depending on my location and circumstances, my choice being guided primarily by convenience, safety, and taste.
Lest I be accused of having hidden vested interests or unfair bias for or against either side of the debate, let me first briefly declare my hand. I am an exploration geologist primarily involved in groundwater development for private, commercial, industrial and indeed public water supply and I am also a professional water diviner. This combination of scientific knowledge and intuitive skills has made my independent consultancy one of the most successful in the water development field with a 21-year track record of over 2,500 high-yield water supply developments including a lot of troubleshooting work where I have high success rates in finding abundant water sources where others have failed to find enough. I have worked for many national and regional government departments, water authorities or companies, and hundreds of industrial, commercial and private clients, including many in the food and beverage industries and a number of bottled water companies.
This broad experience gives me a uniquely well-informed independent perspective on the whole subject of drinking water from all types of sources. I will give my opinions on the above 5 issues in 5 separate posts to make it easier for anyone to comment on the individual issues.

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1) The cost of bottled water relative to tap water,

Of course, to most of us as consumers, bottled water is far more expensive than tap water because of the costs of production, packaging, transport, and marketing the products. Tap water in the UK typically costs about 90p to £1.80 per cubic metre, or 0.09p to 0.18p per litre to consumers, whereas bottled water retails at 18p per litre up to nearly £4.00 per litre (about 200 to 2,000 times the price of tap water). On the face of it one might assume the bottled water business is ‘a license to print money’ but in fact that is not the case.
Of course this is a ridiculous comparison because the sources, regulatory regimes, and methods of production and delivery are very different. Tap water is produced very economically from high volume natural sources via large water treatment works and delivered through permanent efficient distribution networks directly to our homes and workplaces.
The economy of scale is paramount. Just one medium-sized water treatment works such as the new Glencorse WTW for the City of Edinburgh produces up to 175 million litres per day, or as much water in one week as an entire year’s production from all the UK’s bottled water producers put together. The Glencorse works was completed at a cost of about £130M and runs very economically using gravity head pressure instead of pumps to deliver water into the city networks. Just looking at capital costs alone, if the whole cost of the project were to be written off against 10 years’ water supply of about 600 billion litres, the cost per litre would be only 0.02p/l. Standing charges for water meters cover the costs of delivery infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Water company charges in the UK are typically over £1/m3 or 0.1p per litre, allowing plenty of room for profit over the cost of production and delivery.
In comparison the capital expenditure for the UK’s biggest bottled water producer, Highland Spring Group, in its four separate production facilities amounts to more than £50M but the group’s total annual production is less than 500 million litres per year. On the equivalent basis if the capital expenditure was written off against 10 years’ production of about 5 billion litres, the cost per litre would be more than a penny per litre (50 times higher than for public water supply).
The cost per litre for production, bottling, capping, labelling, packaging, marketing, and delivery to retailers is far higher, typically working out at about 25 to 15p/l for glass bottles and small sport-capped bottles of still or sparkling water and flavoured varieties, and comes down to a base level of about 12 to 8p/l for larger plastic bottles of still water. Working profit margins at wholesale prices typically fall in the 20-30% range or about 2 to 5p/l, and actually the lion’s share of profits goes to distributors and retailers with mark-ups of at least 50% and up to 500% on wholesale prices.
The cost to us as consumers of bottled Spring Water or Natural Mineral Water varies greatly from as little as 18p to nearly £4 per litre depending on the product packaging and the retail outlet. When you make the price comparison with tap water it appears ridiculous that anyone should ever choose to buy bottled waters, but isn’t it equally ridiculous, if not more so, that millions of us choose to buy beer at up to £12 per litre or fizzy pop soft drinks at up to £5 per litre when these are basically 95% water with toxic alcohol and or unhealthy sugars and flavourings mixed in?
Yet I don’t see anyone comparing the price of beer or soft drinks to tap water and, though historically the opposite was true, these days a pint of well sterilised tap water or bottled spring water is a whole lot better for your health than a pint of lager, that’s for certain! So, when out at your favourite pub or restaurant, why spend £5 on a pint of Brew instead of £1.50 for a 75cl bottle of Adam’s Ale?
Other retail choices are even more ridiculous than these beverage-buying decisions… Why do millions of people in this country still buy packets of 20 cancer sticks at £8.47 a pop knowing full well that they are 100% bad for their health and that more than 75% of the price is tax?
Yes, indeed, our buying decisions are complex and often completely illogical, but there are actually a number of perfectly understandable logical reasons why growing numbers of people do continue to buy bottled waters in increasing volumes.

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2) The Convenience value and Safety of bottled water,

Convenience is a major factor in motivating purchases of many products, indeed, most products, including bottled water. To ask why we buy bottled water when we have water on tap is much the same as asking why we buy bread instead of flour and yeast, or processed foods when there is natural food aplenty in farm shops and in the greengrocery departments of supermarkets, why we use microwave ovens instead of cooking over a fire, why we drive cars instead of riding horses or walking, or why we use e-mail instead of the Royal Mail these days… The answers are manifold but chief among them is convenience.
Convenience motivates our choices when we have the opportunity to have something more easily, and more quickly than the alternatives provide.

Here in the UK, those of us who engage in sporting activities need to keep well hydrated and will often carry and consume bottled water or soft drinks because the bottled drinks are convenient, portable, and safe relative to having to stop to find a tap, which, when you’re out and about, is most likely to be in a public convenience where neither the atmosphere nor the condition of the taps could be regarded as hygienic, or relative to drinking from a natural source such as a stream or river, which is more than likely to be polluted or microbiologically unwholesome in some way.
Of course we could carry a bottle of water filled from our tap at home, and many of us do, but there are also other issues that inform our choices about the foods and beverages we consume and the water we choose to drink.

Safety is an equally important corollary motivation to convenience that underpins our choices on selecting convenience foods or drinks and other products. A level of trust in the safety and quality of the products we buy is implicit in our choice to buy. We don’t buy products we don’t trust. Often, in our well-regulated consumer society, that trust is assumed or taken for granted at home, but sometimes it may be misplaced, especially in unregulated or poorly regulated economies. Who among us has not experienced a nasty case of Delhi belly at least once in their life?

In the UK both tap water and bottled water are convenient and safe, but in different ways.
Not many people in the UK would brush their teeth using bottled water (that would seem pretty eccentric) because we normally brush our teeth at the bathroom basin where tap water is at hand and trusted to be safe; but I brushed my teeth with bottled water for three years while living and working in Uganda where tap water was mostly not available and, if available, was not safe to use without boiling. I could have used boiled water of course, but bottled water was more convenient and there was a particular product available that I knew to be produced to a high standard from a safe groundwater source. This little example illustrates that both convenience and safety are very relative factors depending on the circumstances of the time and place a product is needed.

Bottled waters in the UK and Europe are safe to drink because the industry is very well regulated and pure natural water sources are chosen and thoroughly tested and protected; but in some other countries that is not always the case. In China, for example, there are thousands of bottled water producers many of which have made their fortunes by building bottling plants to filter river water to a higher standard than the city waterworks do, and sell it in convenient sized bottles to the Chinese public in hundreds of cities across China where the tap water is generally not safe to drink and is not available to the majority of the population. Often the rivers are polluted and then even those filtered waters fall under suspicion. There are also a large number of rogue traders selling bottled water that is not safe to drink, and consequently Chinese producers are not well trusted and even those few that produce good quality spring waters suffer from the poor reputation of the many unreliable traders. As a result of this high level of customer distrust, the most popular or preferred bottled waters in China today, even though they are very expensive, are the imported European brands that are perceived to be reliably safe.

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Tap water and bottled water are safe, though bottled still water can contain a much higher number of bacteria. Using bottled water is simply a waste of resources.

One bottle can be refilled with tap water hundreds if not thousands of times, and that is safe.

It is well known that tap water is unsafe in some countries, but that does not apply to the UK.

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Refilling:
I agree; If your tap water is palatable enough to drink, and if you are careful to sterilise your bottle every couple of days.

“It is well known that tap water is unsafe in some countries, but that does not apply to the UK”
Oh really? Read on…..

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Do you sterilise the cups you drink from? Washing is perfectly adequate for both bottles and cups.

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3) The qualitative experience of drinking bottled waters relative to public utility tap waters,

As my previous post illustrates, in many other countries tap water cannot be presumed to be safe to drink and it often or usually isn’t safe. This is also true in parts of Europe and some parts of the USA.
While in some countries some bottled waters are not safe to drink either, on the whole most of them are safe for the simple reason that the capital investment in bottling plant, equipment, and distribution necessitates a form of self-regulation through the level of care put into safely developing and maintaining the water sources that are used to ensure the long-term financial security of the enterprise.
In UK, Europe and North America and in many other countries, the bottled water industry is strictly regulated to protect public health and in fact contributes significantly to improved public health by increasing availability and consumption of good quality drinking water and providing a substitute for other less healthy beverages.

Here in the UK most of us are fortunate to have very safe public water supply on tap on a daily basis and we take it for granted most of the time. Our tap water is generally well treated, filtered, sterilised and distributed, and opponents of the bottled water trade claim that tap water is as good as, if not better than, bottled water. This may be true if measured by standards of sterility but with a few exceptions in areas where the public supply is from pure groundwater sources delivered through relatively modern networks requiring only a minimum of sterilisation, it is otherwise not true by standards of taste. The reason for this disparity is obvious enough when you consider the very different origins and treatments of tap water and bottled water, which will be addressed in more detail in the next post.
The most common complaints about tap water focus on the often unpleasant taste and smell of residual chlorine and sometimes other residual muddy, earthy or slightly metallic taste and odour of chemically treated water, which is fine for general household use but tends to discourage drinking the water in sufficient quantities for good diet and hydration. Most people cannot drink more than a glassful of tap water at once and otherwise resort to tea or coffee or other beverages, or indeed to bottled water when they feel thirsty… Those who commonly experience the unnatural unpleasant taste and odour of their tap water may be so repulsed by it that they will not drink it at all, and these are the people who most regularly buy bottled water in the larger bottle sizes, which can happily be quaffed by the litre with full enjoyment and benefit.

In my personal experience, even in the areas blessed with the best public water supplies, chlorine dosing can be uneven and disperses unevenly through the distribution network, and at times a glass of water from your kitchen tap doesn’t taste or smell much different than taking a swig from your local swimming pool. There’s no escaping the chlorine and 101 other trace pollutants that its presence masks. Large city supplies that are dependent on heavily treated river water and recycled water produce the worst tap waters in the UK. In Greater London the tap water may look crystal clear in your glass and it may be ‘safe to drink’ but it smells and tastes as putrid as if you were drinking directly from the outfall of a sewage treatment plant. Just bringing the glass to your lips is enough to make you gag. Such foul tap water is quite undrinkable and patently not the same, nor anywhere near as good, as pure unadulterated bottled Spring Water or Natural Mineral Water. Those who claim that it is are only fooling themselves.

Here’s a blog from a fellow Scot who doesn’t mince his words on the subject of London’s tap water… http://londoniscool.com/london-tap-water-is-poisonous
Here’s a BBC London News article about Thames water proposing to recycle treated sewage effluent back into the Thames to augment the city’s water supply.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22479216
The idea is not very popular with Londoners, but guess what; they’ve been drinking and bathing in recycled sewage water for many years already. Where do they suppose all the sewage effluent from the upstream towns and cities in the Thames catchment area goes to? Into the Thames of course, and thereby into the London city water supply.

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4) The differences in the origin and quality of bottled waters relative to public tap waters,

Taking the quite extreme example of London’s tap water; the difference between pure and clean sweet-tasting unadulterated Spring Water or Natural Mineral Water from unspoiled upland aquifers that are demonstrably free of all traces of pollution and that putrid-smelling sterilised cocktail of agricultural and urban run-off, recycled chemical pollutants, Thames mud and millions of dead micro-organisms that is served up daily in our capital city is so stark and obvious as to be unquestionable. Thames water may pass their lab tests with flying colours but it doesn’t come anywhere close to passing my taste test, nor that of many Londoners and visitors to London.

Many cities and towns have much better tap water than the nasty cocktail served through London’s taps, but no system is completely failsafe and there are still occasional health scares when mistakes are made at water treatment works or high contaminant loads from floods or damaged water mains get into the water supply to thousands of homes and businesses… On these occasions the local authorities and water companies call upon emergency supplies of bottled water for public drinking water in the affected communities.

The DWI Drinking Water Inspectorate monitors public water supply quality in England and Wales and issues reassuring guidance papers on most of the issues affecting consumers, http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/index.htm
…and similarly the DWQR Drinking Water Quality Regulator performs the same role in Scotland.

For most of us tap water quality meets regulatory standards but there are occasional problems with sub-standard supply including occasional incidents of suspended particles and sediment, chemical contamination, excessive residual chlorine levels, excessive nitrate levels, pesticides and herbicides, live micro-organisms and algae, or microbiological pathogens such as the primary indicators of faecal contamination, total coliforms, e-coli, cryptosporidium and giardia. Problems that might affect consumers’ health are rare, but when they do occur they can affect hundreds or thousands of people and tend sometimes to affect the same communities a number of times before remedial work on the supply system is undertaken and completed.

Cryptosporidium is an emerging parasitic pathogen commonly found in UK waters http://www.cieh.org/policy/cryptosporidium_background.html … and tens of millions of pounds have been spent on improving water treatment works and provisions to try to control it adequately, apparently with little success in reducing the numbers of cases of cryptosporidiosis.
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/cryptosporidiosis-guidance-data-and-analysis
Special new regulations have been introduced in England and Wales and in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/1524/pdfs/uksi_19991524_en.pdf
http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/26487/0013541.pdf
http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/crypto_guidance_feb03.pdf
In Scotland a substantial number of rural water treatment works have had problems failing to control Cryptosporidium and Scottish Water issues comprehensive guidance to the public to improve awareness of the risks and how to manage when water supplies are found to be contaminated. http://www.scottishwater.co.uk/contact-us/cryptosporidium-information

In the USA, where the largest recorded outbreak of water-borne disease in the USA occurred in 1993 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, more than 400,000 people were afflicted and over 100 deaths were attributed directly to the outbreak.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_Milwaukee_Cryptosporidiosis_outbreak

Escherichia coli is a common group of faecal contaminants found in surface waters used for public water supply. A recent example of e-coli contamination and public alert activation occurred in Canada’s sixth largest city in January 2015, when a ‘boil water advisory’ was issued to the entire population of 700,000 people when 15% of a batch of Winnipeg city water supply samples returned positive results for the e-coli pathogen.
A specific E-coli strain is recognised as another emerging threat to public health, which is transmitted by cross-contaminated food or water.
E-coli 0157:H7 is particularly virulent and toxic and has caused many cases of severe illness and a substantial number of deaths since it was first detected in the early 1980s. http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/ecoli.cfm .
The strain has been particularly prevalent in Scotland with several serious outbreaks and individual cases of infection causing a high proportion of severe illness and deaths among the infected individuals. The Scottish government and health authorities have published advice on subject to help educate the public on how to avoid infection.
http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/47102/0013825.pdf

These are all problems associated with surface waters and recycled waters that are primarily used for public water supply (about 60% in England 80% in Wales and over 95% in Scotland). These problems are generally not associated with spring waters or natural mineral waters as they are sourced from carefully protected natural underground aquifers and bottled in facilities where quality control is strictly regulated. The water quality standards that apply to Spring Waters and especially Natural Mineral Waters in UK and Europe are at least as comprehensive and stringent as those that apply to the public water supply utilities, if not more so in some aspects.
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/2785/pdfs/uksi_20072785_en.pdf
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2000/3184/pdfs/uksi_20003184_en.pdf

Wikipedia on the subject of bottled water concentrates mainly on information from the USA, reporting that, bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a packaged food product. By law, the FDA regulations for bottled water must be at least as stringent as the Environmental Protection Agency standards for tap water and, in some cases such as lead, coliform bacteria, and E. coli, bottled water regulations are substantially more stringent than EPA rules for tap water safety.
Bottled water has an impressive safety record – “There have been no major outbreaks of illness or serious safety concerns associated with bottled water in the past decade”, an FDA official stated in testimony before a July 9, 2009 Congressional hearing. Conversely, as noted in the Drinking Water Research Foundation’s (DWRF) 2013 report, “Microbial Health Risks of Regulated Drinking Waters in the United States,” EPA researchers reported an estimated 16.4 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness per year are caused by tap water. Subsequent research has estimated that number of illnesses to be closer to 19.5 million cases per year. In addition, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that waterborne diseases, such as Cryptosporidiosis and Giardiasis, cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $539 million a year in hospital expenses.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottled_water

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5) The Environmental Cost of the bottled water industry.

In common with all industries, the bottled water industry does have an environmental cost, but it is relatively low compared to many other food and beverage industries and manufacturing industries. The carbon footprint of buildings and machinery and road haulage is not insignificant but there are ways in which this can be reduced by using renewable energy and recyclable bottles for example, and also, in common with some public water supply companies, bottled water businesses have a vested and active interest in preserving and enhancing the natural environments that they derive their water from, reducing land degradation and polluting activity in these areas, which is a strong point in their favour, to be fair.

I don’t understand why bottled water is being singled out as a scapegoat for environmental conscience when most other consumer products have a worse carbon footprint including the whole soft drinks industry. Bottled water accounts for only 15% of UK soft drinks sales by volume. Detractors say it is a wasteful and unnecessary luxury and we should do without it, but then surely the exact same criticism should be more justifiably levelled at all soft drinks, which are also bad for our health, and also at alcoholic beverages, and countless other products that many of us buy without a second thought for the environment ….

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The reason for singling out bottled water as a scapegoat is probably because we have high quality drinking water piped to our homes. I agree about soft drinks and I’m in favour of recyclable bottles.

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Doug at geodivining.com wrote: “Not many people in the UK would brush their teeth using bottled water (that would seem pretty eccentric) because we normally brush our teeth at the bathroom basin where tap water is at hand and trusted to be safe….”

Maybe it’s not eccentric to avoid using bathroom taps. In many modern houses, only the kitchen tap is fed from the rising main and bathroom taps are fed from a tank in the loft. The lower pressure is one indicator and if turning off the main stop valve does not affect a tap, you can be sure that it is fed from the tank. It’s a good idea to have a proper lid on a cold tank in the loft. I am not aware of anyone becoming ill as a result of cold water from a tank but if you are worried, just fill a cup from the cold tap in the kitchen, which must by law be fed from the rising main.

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I cannot see the point in wasting good money on bottled water – unless it is sparkling which I enjoy mixed with cordial.

Do you sterilise your kitchen tap before you draw drinking water from it? I’ve use tank-fed bathroom tap water to clean my teeth from when they first appeared – quite a long time ago now.

I see no scapegoats here – people have the freedom of choice to spend their money as they wish. You can buy iceberg water for £10 a bottle if it pleases you – “10 000 year old original and absolutely perfect, untouched and protected”. But i’ll stick with Thames Water’s product and ice cubes from the fridge..

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The problem with feeding taps from tanks is that the chlorine that is added to tap water to keep it sate is lost to the atmosphere. That’s probably not a problem if the water is in regular use, but I certainly would not like to use tank water after a holiday. In older houses, decaying birds and rats have occasionally been found in cold water tanks. 🙁

When I first moved away from home I found that the kitchen tap was fed from a tank, which is illegal. The landlord denied this but very quickly had the problem rectified when I made it clear that I would take the matter further. Apparently it is quite common for houses converted into flats to have kitchen taps fed from tanks because that can be easier for the plumber. At the time, Scotland differed and all cold water taps had to be fed from the rising main.

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Malcolm, I do sterilise all my taps regularly because I suffer from chronic neutropenia, an autoimmune condition, and have to take extra hygiene precautions to avoid bacterial infections. My glasses, cups and all other crockery and cutlery goes through the dishwasher which thoroughly washes and steam-sterilises everything (Wavechange). Unfortunately plastic bottles don’t do well in the dishwasher, and equally, glass bottles are difficult to position well to wash and drain and don’t really get the full treatment inside due to the narrow neck, therefore sterilising bottles separately (as most mothers do for their baby milk bottles) works well for me.

There is a quite widespread and concerted campaign against bottled water on environmental grounds and in that respect it has been made a scapegoat relative to other beverage products. My point is that I don’t think the particular attention on bottled water is well justified. All ready-to-drink beverage products are packaged in some way in casks, bottles, or cans, and in comparison to all other beverages the packaging of bottled water is relatively simple and less wasteful of resources. Also the products themselves have a much greater carbon footprint than bottled water does because of the ingredients and processes that go into making them. Apparently it takes well over 100 litres of water just to make one litre of whisky, or beer, or cider, or fizzy pop, whereas bottled water is just that; certified good quality drinking water delivered in a bottle.
Now the main reason why people buy and drink bottled water in this country is because they want to be healthy and drink enough water but don’t like the taste of their tap water. Discouraging people from drinking bottled water is only likely to push them back towards drinking more harmful soft drinks, which to my mind, from an environmental perspective is rather counter-productive.

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Doug, I’m sorry to hear of your condition. My remark about sterilising taps (or lack of) was aimed at the general population of course.

As I said people can spend their own money on whatever they want, for their own reasons – such as those you suggest. I do think drinking bottled water has become, to some extent, fashionable. Particularly in restaurants where advantage can be taken of a captive customer. I simply do not want to spend my money that way. Similarly I agree soft drinks are an expensive beverage – particularly in restaurants and pubs – but some are very pleasant to drink and cannot be judged on cost alone. We buy some of the interesting flavours of sparkling drinks that M&S sell when we have family meals. Nice for children but also for those who do not want to drink wine or cider.

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Doug – I am very sorry to learn that you suffer from chronic neutropenia.

I don’t know if you are aware that bottled water can contain many more bacteria than tap water. That is simply because tap water is chlorinated and bottled water is not. This article is in a newspaper, and contains no detail, but it is factually correct: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/7763038/Bottled-water-contains-more-bacteria-than-tap-water.html

A significant point that is not mentioned is that sparkling water contains fewer bacteria than sparkling water. That is because carbonated water has a lower pH (higher acidity) and is unsuitable for growth of most bacteria (see reference below)*. The lower pH will, however, favour growth of moulds.

Bottled water is considered safe for adults but should be boiled before giving to infants, whose immune system has yet to fully develop. The same applies to any adult, like yourself, who has a compromised immune system. Here is a link to an article advising neutropenics to avoid bottled mineral water: http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/national/Lymphoma%20Association/Assets/FoodsafetywhenyouareneutropenicLA8pages.pdf

*Here is the abstract of a scientific paper entitled ‘Bottled water as a source of multi-resistant Stenotrophomonas and Pseudomonas species for neutropenic patients’: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9582746 To quote from the abstract: “We therefore recommend that neutropenic patients should not consume non-carbonated bottled mineral water.” The full paper is not available to the general public (unless paid for) but here is a quotation: ‘In conclusion, we recommend that, although the consumption of uncarbonated bottled water is unlikely to be harmful for healthy individuals, it should not be drunk by immunosuppressed patients, particularly those who are neutropenic. In contrast, carbonated bottled water, as investigated in this study, appears to be safe to drink for neutropenic individuals. We would also recommend that once opened, bottles should be kept in a refrigerator.’

I don’t claim to be an expert but I believe you would be safer with tap water than any bottled water. Boiling either will ensure it is safe to drink, though I should point out that boiling does not sterilise water. To achieve that would require a temperature well above boiling.

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Malcolm, thanks for your comment: Retailers do commonly take advantage of their ‘captive customers’. In-context examples are restaurants and hotels as you have pointed out, and also Motorway Services where you can’t get to a tap except in the toilets and bottled Natural MIneral Water is double or triple the usual retail price. A75cl bottle of Buxton for £2 is taking the mickey. Of course everything is expensive at motorway services, including the fuel, which is usually 10-15% dearer than the regular pump prices at your local service station.

I agree that soft drinks are pleasant tasting and all that, and I enjoy some of them as much as anyone might, but generally I prefer a glass of fruit juice or pure water over the more processed beverages. I don’t like carbonated anything, carbonic acid is quite aggressively acidic to teeth and besides it gives be gas. But if you like your sparkling drinks that’s fine. If you want to save money, why not try adding carbonated water to fruit juice. It’s just as good at half the price.

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‘Wavechange’ – Thanks for your previous post and for going to the trouble of doing some research.

Yes I am aware of the simple difference between tap water and bottled water being that tap waters are supposedly sterilised by the use of chlorine or chlorine compounds such as chloramine (highly reactive toxic chemicals), and I am aware that some bottled waters contain unacceptable numbers of bacteria.
The newspaper anecdote you cite refers to some Canadian study, presumably on Canadian bottled waters, and as you say, it is devoid of any useful data.
Which? magazine did a study on this subject in August 2008 and got some of their ‘facts’ wrong, had to publish a correction after complaints were upheld by the Press Complaints Commission in 2009. I’ve tried to find a copy of the report on line to provide a link here, but it is evidently not available…

I prefer to make my choices based on more complete factual data and scientifically well-informed considerations, such as those you have cited giving advice on bottled water consumption for infants and immune-compromised adults. Thank you for your well-intentioned advice based on those references.
Unfortunately the references are rather vague as they do not give any source analytical data nor do they say which bottled waters were actually tested. Neither UK (NHS) nor American research papers make any distinction between the different types of bottled waters, nor do they make reference to the regulatory standards that apply to bottled waters in either country…

You didn’t mention that the NHS also advises immune-compromised individuals not to drink tap water without first boiling it…
http://www.ycn.nhs.uk/html/downloads/ycn-infection-safereatingweakenedimmunesystem-v1-oct-2014.pdf
http://www.swbh.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Food-and-water-safety-ML3795.pdf

The last link advises…”the Department of the Environment recommends that: “All water, from whatever source, that might be used by an immuno-compromised person should be brought to the boil and allowed to cool before use.”
Households with private water supplies have a higher risk of being contaminated, and individuals should be aware that some water fountains, campsites or remote holiday accommodation may have private water supplies which cannot be considered universally safe from Cryptosporidium.
Water from the tap or from bottles and ice used in restaurants, bars, theatres and other such places cannot be relied upon to be safe.”

NHS advice regarding Cryptosporidium is quite explicit about the risks of infection from tap water and the fact that the oocysts are resistant to Chlorination and other methods of disinfection:
I quote, http://www.chelwest.nhs.uk/services/hiv-sexual-health/links/general/Water-Safety-Cryptosporidium.pdf

“Cryptosporidium is a protozoan found in faeces, soil and sewage. A person can be infected when they ingest oocysts (eggs) that contaminate water, food, hands or other objects.
For those without immune impairment, cryptosporidium infection causes diarrhoea which usually resolves fairly quickly. However, for those with an impaired immune system, cryptosporidium is not easily treated and can cause prolonged diarrhoea and weight loss. It is therefore important for those who are immune compromised to be aware of water safety issues.
Water treatment methods are intended to remove impurities and infectious organisms. If these fail, tap water can become a source of infection with organisms such as cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium eggs are resistant to chlorine and other disinfectants so may be occasionally found in tap water.
A report produced by the Department of Environment and Health in 1995 concluded that:
‘The absence of cryptosporidium oocysts in drinking water can never be guaranteed. In the light of a small risk of infection, it would be appropriate to advise people in whom cryptosporidiosis is likely to be a persistent and life threatening illness as a result of impaired immunity to avoid drinking unboiled water whether from tap or bottled or any other source’
Although the risk of cryptosporidium infection from drinking water is small, it would be prudent to take precautions.” This advice should be followed for anyone with immune impairment but it is of particular importance if your CD4-cell count is less than 200 cells/mm3 or your CD4 percentage is less than 14%”. (200/mm3 = 200,000,000 per litre = 0.2 x 109/litre).
Guidelines for safe water consumption ::
Boiling tap water will kill any cryptosporidia which may be present. The water needs to be boiled for a minimum of one minute – so just boiling in an automatic kettle is not adequate.
Treated water should be put into a heatproof bottle or jug with a tight fitting lid and stored in the fridge.
In order to avoid re-infection with any organism, this water should be used within 12 – 48 hours, and ideally within 24 hours.
As well as using treated water for cold drinks it is also advisable to use it for: – making ice cubes, washing salad and other food items that are not cooked and for brushing your teeth.
Bottled water ::
There is insufficient evidence or routine measurement to recommend bottled water as a safer option as some bottled water has been shown to contain higher number of bacteria then unboiled tap water (in Britain), therefore it would still be advisable to boil bottled water. Sparkling or carbonated water might be a safer option than still water as it is slightly more acidic.
When travelling abroad, carbonated water may be the safest option if local water is known to be of poor quality. Contaminated water can be a source of various infectious organisms as well as cryptosporidium. Boiling the water is advisable if possible.
Water Filters ::
General household free-standing water filters are designed to improve the taste of tap water. They are not designed to remove cryptosporidia. Submicron filters (with a mesh size of less than 1 micron) are necessary to remove cryptosporidia from water. Filters tested by the Department of the Environment are suitable for installation at home. One company that can provide and install them for you is (see web page for reference).
It is important to follow the guidelines on the replacement and cleaning of filter cartridges.
At the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, (including Kobler out-patients, day-care and Thomas Macaulay Ward), the Dean Street Sexual Health Clinic and the West London Centre for Sexual Health (Charing Cross) filtered table drinking water is available.
Other sources of Cryptosporidium ::
Water is not the only possible route of cryptosporidium infection. It is likely to be a relatively small risk compared to that associated with contact with stools of infected animals or people (take care when cleaning pet’s litter trays or changing nappies) or swallowing contaminated water (recreational and lake/stream). Soil may also be contaminated – it is advisable to wash hands thoroughly after gardening or potting plants and ensure that salad items such as raw mushrooms are well washed.
Although better treatments for HIV have resulted in a decreased rate of cryptosporidium infection, it should be understood that for safe drinking water, boiling water is the only 100% guaranteed way of removing cryptosporidium. Prevention is better than cure.

NHS also advises mothers not to give infants tap water unless it is boiled and cooled first. NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/drinks-and-cups-children.aspx#close advises on Tap Water and Bottled Water,
“Fully breastfed babies don’t need any water until they’ve started eating solid food. Bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather. For babies under six months, use water from the mains tap in the kitchen that’s been boiled then cooled. Water for babies over six months doesn’t need to be boiled. – Bottled water is not recommended for making up infant formula feeds as it is not sterile and may contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate. If you have to use bottled water to make up a feed, check the label to make sure the sodium (also written as Na) level is less than 200 milligrams (mg) per litre, and the sulphate (also written as SO or SO4) content is not higher than 250mg per litre. Bottled water is not sterile, so it will need to be boiled like tap water before you use it to prepare a feed. Always use boiled water at a temperature of at least 70ºC, but remember to let the feed cool before you give it to the baby.”

On the subject of Drinking Water Abroad they also give excellent advice,
“In countries with poor sanitation, don’t drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless it has been treated. For information about sanitation levels in the country you are travelling to, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NATHNAC). Filtered, bottled, boiled or chemically treated water should be used. Bottled fizzy drinks with an intact seal are usually safe, as are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water. Ice in drinks should be avoided. The most reliable way to purify water is by boiling it, but this is not always possible. Chemical disinfectants, such as iodine and chlorine, will usually kill bacteria and viruses and can easily be obtained from larger chemists or specialist travel shops. However, some parasites are not reliably killed with iodine or chlorine preparations. Combining iodine or chlorine with filtration using a specialist filter (bought from a travel shop) should be effective. Domestic water filters designed for use in the UK are not suitable.”

Such sources of advice cannot differentiate between sources of tap water in different cities or regions, although they do differentiate between home and abroad. They also cannot or do not differentiate between the three bottled water classes defined by regulation in Europe or individual sources or products although they do differentiate between carbonated and still water and it is suggested that carbonated water is the safest option in certain circumstances.

With regard to the advice to parents of infants, bottled spring waters and natural mineral waters in UK typically contain less than 50mg/l of both Sodium and Sulphate and there is no problem with water chemistry. In relation to bacteria and cryptosporidium, the advice to boil all water is sound.

From my own experience of tap waters and bottled waters at home and abroad, as an immune-compromised individual with intermediate to severe chronic neutropenia, I have often picked up infections from foods prepared with contaminated water or from tap water when I omitted to boil it before use, but though I frequently drink bottled water and brush my teeth with it, I have never boiled and cooled bottled waters and I have never picked up any infection from it; not once.

As with previous posts I must make the distinction between bottled waters generally, and my selectivity in using only Natural Mineral Waters from proven deep underground sources.

As a hydrogeological consultant I can inform you truthfully that among the hundreds of tests that are done on Natural Mineral Waters are tests that can determine the age of the water since it fell as rain and filtered into the ground (from dissolved atmospheric Tritium, CFC, etc).
Deep groundwater is typically more than 10 years old, often more than 50 years old, and sometimes more than 100 years old. Drawing water from deep groundwater sources in clean natural environments pretty well precludes any chances of microbial contamination because pathogenic bacteria that are found at the surface die out in the soil and shallow groundwater environment within a few days to a few weeks, and even the hardy Cryptosporidium oocyst that proliferates in surface waters cannot survive for more than 18 months in groundwater.

In my experience, and as the regulations ensure, if the source is pure the bottle keeps it pure.

Profile photo of Doug geodivining
Member

Thanks ‘Wavechange’ for causing me to look into this advice more thoroughly…

Your citations have prompted further research on my part, and I have discovered more useful guidance in respect to all water for immune compromised individuals, and also several facts that the NHS doctors have omitted to tell me as a Neutropenia sufferer over the past 25 years since the condition was first diagnosed. Most significantly, I have found specific NHS and other advice that the prophylactic treatments of penicillin (which I had for 9 years after suffering rheumatic fever as a child) and co-trimoxazole (which I have had for 25 years and stopped taking a year ago on my own accord) are actually among the leading causes of drug-induced neutropenia!
My health is a lot better without the co-trimoxazole. 🙂

On the subject of disinfection, some comments refer to Chlorine dispersal by evaporation from aerated or standing tap water in a jug, header tank, etc. This is only the case if Chlorine gas has been used for disinfection, but there have been a number of serious accidents involving Chlorine gas leaks in water treatment works and in recent years it has been discovered that chlorine disinfection produces carcinogenic by-products. Consequently many water companies in the UK and other countries have switched or are switching to using Chloramine, which is safer for workers, lasts much longer in piped water networks, has a less obvious taste and odour, doesn’t disperse by evaporation, and allegedly produces less harmful by-products, though I am not at all sure of that.
The cited DWI report defines Chloramine as a substance formed by a reaction between chlorine and ammonia, used as a disinfectant in distribution systems because of its long-lasting properties compared to chlorine.
Other references give a good overview of the effectiveness, chemistry and by products, and health risks of Chloramine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chloramine
http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/mdbp/chloramines_index.cfm
http://chloramineinfocenter.net/?page_id=22
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/chloramine_in_tap_water_is_it_sa
http://www.lenntech.com/processes/disinfection/chemical/disinfectants-chloramines.htm

The last link above gives this advice on health risks…
“Drinking chloramine-containing water or using it for boiling and bathing is safe, because of a neutralization of chloramines in the metabolism. However, people with weakened immune systems, such as young children, elderly people, people with HIV and people that undergo chemo therapy, should also be cautious when it comes to the use of chloramine disinfected water”.

So… based on advice, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place… Don’t drink bottled water, don’t drink chloraminated water, don’t drink milk or eat yoghurt, or cheese, don’t eat salad, don’t eat eggs, or chicken, or cold meats generally, don’t eat reheated foods, etc, etc.

Also I would note that, as many of the cited references indicate, quite a few pathogenic micro-organisms such as Clostridia perfringens, pseudomonas aeruginosa, Giardia and Cryptosporidium among others are remarkably resistant to disinfection and can cause serious contamination incidents in public water supply as well as private water supplies.

Reference the UK DWI documents and references to The Milwaukee Cryptosporidium outbreak that I previously cited, and others from the USA… http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/milwaukee-marks-20-years-since-cryptosporidium-outbreak-099dio5-201783191.html

The following more recent studies are quite eye-opening!

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18020305 Abstract

“Outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are not common in the U.S., but they do still occur and can lead to serious acute, chronic, or sometimes fatal health consequences, particularly in sensitive and immunocompromised populations.
From 1971 to 2002, there were 764 documented waterborne outbreaks associated with drinking water, resulting in 575,457 cases of illness and 79 deaths (Blackburn et al. 2004; Calderon 2004); however, the true impact of disease is estimated to be much higher.

If properly applied, current protocols in municipal water treatment are effective at eliminating pathogens from water. However, inadequate, interrupted, or intermittent treatment has repeatedly been associated with waterborne disease outbreaks.
Contamination is not evenly distributed but rather affected by the number of pathogens in the source water, the age of the distribution system, the quality of the delivered water, and climatic events that can tax treatment plant operations.

Private water supplies are not regulated by the USEPA and are generally not treated or monitored, although very few of the municipal systems involved in documented outbreaks exceeded the USEPA’s total coliform standard in the preceding 12 mon (Craun et al. 2002).

We provide here estimates of waterborne infection and illness risks in the U.S. based on the total number of water systems, source water type, and total populations exposed. Furthermore, we evaluated all possible illnesses associated with the microbial infection and not just gastroenteritis.

Our results indicate that 10.7 M infections/yr and 5.4 M illnesses/yr occur in populations served by community groundwater systems; 2.2 M infections/yr and 1.1 M illnesses/yr occur in non-community groundwater systems; and 26.0 M infections/yr and 13.0 M illnesses/yr occur in municipal surface water systems. The total estimated number of waterborne illnesses/yr in the U.S. is therefore estimated to be 19.5 M/yr.
Others have recently estimated waterborne illness rates of 12M cases/yr (Colford et al. 2006) and 16 M cases/yr (Messner et al. 2006), yet our estimate considers all health outcomes associated with exposure to pathogens in drinking water rather than only gastrointestinal illness.

Drinking water outbreaks exemplify known breaches in municipal water treatment and distribution processes and the failure of regulatory requirements to ensure water that is free of human pathogens.

Water purification technologies applied at the point-of-use (POU) can be effective for limiting the effects of source water contamination, treatment plant inadequacies, minor intrusions in the distribution system, or deliberate posttreatment acts (i.e., bioterrorism).

Epidemiological studies are conflicting on the benefits of POU water treatment. One prospective intervention study found that consumers of reverse-osmosis (POU) filtered water had 20%-35% less gastrointestinal illnesses than those consuming regular tap water, with an excess of 14% of illness due to contaminants introduced in the distribution system (Payment 1991, 1997). Two other studies using randomized, blinded, controlled trials determined that the risks were equal among groups supplied with POU-treated water compared to untreated tap water (Hellard et al. 2001; Colford et al. 2003).
For immunocompromised populations, POU water treatment devices are recommended by the CDC and USEPA as one treatment option for reducing risks of Cryptosporidium and other types of infectious agents transmitted by drinking water. Other populations, including those experiencing “normal” life stages such as pregnancy, or those very young or very old, might also benefit from the utilization of additional water treatment options beyond the current multibarrier approach of municipal water treatment.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23526942 Abstract

“In 2008, a large Salmonella outbreak caused by contamination of the municipal drinking water supply occurred in Alamosa, Colorado.
The objectives of this assessment were to determine the full economic costs associated with the outbreak and the long-term health impacts on the community of Alamosa.

We conducted a postal survey of City of Alamosa (2008 population: 8,746) households and businesses, and conducted in-depth interviews with local, state, and nongovernmental agencies, and City of Alamosa healthcare facilities and schools to assess the economic and long-term health impacts of the outbreak. Twenty-one percent of household survey respondents (n = 369/1,732) reported diarrheal illness during the outbreak. Of those, 29% (n = 108) reported experiencing potential long-term health consequences. Most households (n = 699/771, 91%) reported municipal water as their main drinking water source at home before the outbreak; afterwards, only 30% (n = 233) drank unfiltered municipal tap water.

The outbreak’s estimated total cost to residents and businesses of Alamosa using a Monte Carlo simulation model (10,000 iterations) was approximately $1.5 million dollars (range: $196,677-$6,002,879), and rose to $2.6 million dollars (range: $1,123,471-$7,792,973) with the inclusion of outbreak response costs to local, state and nongovernmental agencies and City of Alamosa healthcare facilities and schools.

This investigation documents the significant economic and health impacts associated with waterborne disease outbreaks and highlights the potential for loss of trust in public water systems following such outbreaks.”

Overall, I don’t always trust public tap water and I don’t like the taste of it anyway.
I do trust the quality and like the taste of certain Natural Mineral Waters, which I find I can drink in large amounts without any harmful effects.

Having said that; it is true, as the DWI annual reports state, that Public Water Supply in the UK can be trusted 99.7% of the time http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/about/annual-report/index.htm

…but the trouble is you never know what might be coming through your tap the remaining 0.03% of the time…

Let’s conclude with a Quote from the Chief Inspector of the DWI in her letter to the Environment Ministry, in July 2014…
“Notwithstanding the good quality of drinking water generally, during 2013, the Inspectorate was involved with Public Health England in the investigation of two events where consumers were made ill as a consequence of contaminated drinking water: an infection of E.coli 0157 that was linked to a private supply at a rented property and a public supply, which was strongly associated with 19 cases of cryptosporidiosis. The learning points from these and the other events and case studies published in my report this year serve as a salutary reminder that safe drinking water requires constant vigilance and careful maintenance by competent persons.”