Back to the Tap

Back to the Tap

Note: This article was originally published in 2007, but we wanted to share it again for all our new readers as food for thought while we prepare for another long holiday weekend.

The medicine I prescribe most in my practice is water. There are plenty of reasons for most people to drink more of it (without the ice, slowly and evenly over the course of the day – you can read more about it HERE). Americans have become increasingly aware of their water consumption in recent decades, and we now buy bottled water like it’s going out of style. While this seems to be a healthy trend, if we want the greatest benefit from our water and are also concerned about the health of our planet, we must raise our consciousness around our water’s origins and the containers it comes in.

An article by Bill Marsh in the New York Times and a report on NPR, both in July of 2007, highlighted the impact of consuming water from plastic bottles. For one, we usually pay more for it per gallon than we do for gasoline. Eight glasses of water a day, drunk from the tap in New York, would cost you forty-nine cents a year. The same amount in bottles would cost roughly $1400.  Americans spend over $100 million a year on bottled water.  Imagine how far this money could go toward ensuring clean water and sanitation in developing countries.
Stats sourced:

Then there’s the impact on the environment. 90% of the environmental toll occurs before we buy the water – there’s oil consumed in manufacture, oil consumed in shipping, and oil consumed in refrigeration.  And all of these processes release tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Of the 28 billion bottles of water Americans buy yearly, only about 14% are recycled.  Plastic bottles have begun piling up in landfills (over 30 million per day). Though recycling them is better, it still requires a lot of energy to transport, wash, and melt the plastic.

Then consider the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive swirling pile of plastic debris in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Estimates on its area range from twice the size of Texas to well over the size of the entire U.S.  Oceanographers say it’s simply not possible to clean it up.  This should get us to think twice about any needless purchase of plastics, especially “disposable” ones.  (As far as I can tell, plastic goods are labeled “disposable” for the purpose of helping consumers let go of any sense of responsibility for what happens to the plastic when they’re done with it.  It’s okay to just throw it away – it’s “disposable.”)

Finally, there are the health drawbacks of plastics. Chemicals from the plastics used in water bottles, even the Nalgene-type bottles, seep into the water – especially when they get hot or very cold. (For this reason, they should never be frozen, microwaved, or left in a hot car.  But you can’t control the shipping and storage conditions the bottle was subjected to before you got it.) These chemicals include a group of carcinogenic substances called dioxins, estrogen-like molecules called xeno-estrogens, and sometimes the heavy metal antimony. Increased exposure to estrogenic substances may cause hormone imbalances, and, like hormone replacement therapy, raises one’s risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Antimony poisoning is similar to arsenic. Small doses cause headache, dizziness, and depression. Though the per-bottle risk presented by these chemicals is tiny, the lifetime risk may be considerable.

The good news is tap water is usually perfectly drinkable!  Unless your bottled water says “Bottled at the Source” on it, it’s probably municipal water anyway (which may or may not have received additional refinement). Most of the tap water in the United States is safe to drink, and Portland is one of five major cities (along with New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle) where the water requires little or no filtration. If you want to improve the taste, this can be accomplished with a home water filtration system. If you buy bottled water out of convenience, consider bottling your own. I avoid aluminum bottles because of aluminum’s possible connection to Alzheimer’s disease.  The jury is out on SIGG-brand aluminum bottles with their secret lining material, so I prefer stainless steel or glass. If you must use plastic, keep in mind that the longer water is kept in a plastic vessel, the greater the degree of chemical leaching – so drink it soon and reuse or recycle.


Copyright 2009 by Peter Borten. No unauthorized reproduction in any form without permission.

  • Candace Johnson Lynch
    Posted at 19:29h, 28 June Reply

    I love this article. Thank you for writing it. I have had many conversations with my Family about why to limit their bottled water consumption. It has mostly been centered around the environmental impact but I am very happy to share the health concerns as well.

    I will be sending them a link to your post for sure.

    Thank you again,

  • Amy Hatfield
    Posted at 08:20h, 13 July Reply

    i remember cutting wood with my dad, when we would look for fresh mountain springs that are safe to drink, and learning the difference is what illudes me. my dad loves nature enough to reteach the natural differences. i will relearn this difference. yummmmmmm, is all i have to say about how it tasted. almost so pure (with love and intent like my dad, was also), it almost tasted sweet. plastic seepage is truth and cannot manufacture the fact of unnatural influences.

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