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Health & Wellness + Science & Tech

Health Matters: Tap Water Is Tops

Drinking tap water is better for the environment and for your wallet


If you drink Aquafina water, sold by beverage giant Pepsi, you probably think your water comes from a mountain spring like the one shown on the bottle’s label. Guess again. As explained on the Aquafina Web site, “Aquafina originates from public water sources and is then purified.” In other words, you’re drinking tap water.

Which may not be a bad thing. Because tap water is very often safer to drink than bottled water, according to Wendy Heiger-Bernays, an associate professor of environmental health at the School of Public Health. “The Environmental Protection Agency mandates that we test for a suite of chemicals and biological agents on a routine basis,” she says, “so you know the water is clean.” The requirements for bottled water, while regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, are much less stringent.

Boston-area water, the water the comes out of the taps at BU, is managed by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), which supplies drinking water to about 2.5 million people in greater Boston, MetroWest, and areas in central Massachusetts. It comes from the Quabbin Reservoir, located 65 miles west of Boston.

Ria Convery, communications director for the MWRA, says the agency tests thousands of water quality samples each week for 120 contaminants, and those samples continue to meet state and federal safety requirements.

Ask someone why they prefer bottled water to tap water, and they often blame tap water’s appearance and smell. Heiger-Bernays acknowledges that at certain times of the year, the smell of chlorine is detectable in tap water, but the chlorine has been added, she says, to decrease microbial contamination. The public health expert also says the color of the water often tells us nothing about its cleanliness: tap water sometimes appears cloudy when it first comes out of the faucet, but the cloudiness is caused by air bubbles, not contaminants. If you want the cloudiness to go away, just pour the water into an open container.

Want another reason to drink tap water? In 2005, a study conducted by the Container Recycling Institute found that Americans purchased 29.8 billion bottles of water that year and failed to recycle over 52 billon plastic containers (not just water bottles). The Pacific Institute estimates that 17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce plastic water bottles every year. Add to this the 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide needed to bottle the water. If you like the convenience of bottled water, try filling up a reusable water bottle.

Environmental advocates advise us to request tap water, rather than bottled water, when we eat at a restaurant, and many Boston-area restaurants now encourage the practice. Read about the Tap Project for more information.

To top it all off, so to speak, bottled water costs about $1.49 a gallon. Tap water? Less than a penny a gallon.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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