Bottled water: is it really healthier?

Lars Rose
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Darwin Belle, Wikimedia Commons

The liquid is refreshing, calorie-free and seriously healthier than sugary sodas. As a matter of fact, it is also the healthiest and by far the cheapest of drink options we have. It is also the most controlled drink we have, regulated and protected under health authorities. But, we all use to think that water that has to travel through pipes in order to reach out taps might be contaminated. However, sloshing around in plastic bottles does not necessarily improve the healthiness of the drink. Quite the opposite!

Did You Know? Bottled water costs 1000 times more than tap water. This makes the most abundant liquid on our planet more expensive than even the most expensive petrol we guzzle in our SUVs.

Aren't those labels of beautiful pastoral mountains a great fit for a great drink? As a matter of fact, more than 30% of the waters come from municipal supplies. What does this mean? Well, you buy in a bottle the same thing as you get from your tap. Neatly wrapped in a package including a quick simple de-chlorination - and an astronomic price hike. None of that concealment is listed on the labels of course.

Did You Know? Bottled water is often nothing but tap water in a bottle. And even worse! According to "Inside the Bottle" watchdogs, water coming from a well located near a hazardous waste site was sold in bottles, labeled as "spring water". They also found "pure glacier water" that was simple Alaska communal tap water.

Another worrisome fact found by scientists is that some plastics used for making bottles might not be good for our health. Apparently there are some materials in plastic polymers that simply leach into the drink. Some parts of the polymers are known as PET (standing for the tongue breaker polyethylene terephthalate). What is bad about them? Well, they may all act as estrogens (a primary female hormone), and mess up estrogen receptors that we all (both males and females) have in our bodies. Martin Wagner and Jörg Oehlmann, researchers at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, found that mud snails that were living in PET bottled water doubled up their offspring production compared to snails living in water bottled in glass. This knowledge about hormone contamination resulted recently in a massive recall of all hard polymer bottles from the shelves of all major Canadian outlets.

Did You Know? Many municipalities have realized that adding fluorine to the water supplies has significantly reduced dental cavities in overall population, of all ages, and none of those useful ions remain in the bottled product.

So, if you look for a healthy and cheap way to quench that thirst: Stick to the tap.

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Lars Rose

Lars Rose is a PhD candidate in high temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cell research (that is sustainable energies), at the Department of Materials Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and at the National Research Council Canada, Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI). He enjoys teaching fun stuff and is the current Media Relations and Human Resources coordinator of the outreach program Let's Talk Science at UBC. He enjoys writing science in a fun way for CurioCity, UBC Terry, the Science Creative Quarterly, Fuel Cell Today and Ubyssey.

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