A purple glow lit up my water jug as the device started its work. On a digital display, the seconds were ticking down. In less than a minute, a quart of water was safe to drink, and the SteriPEN purifier went back on the wall for recharging. Mexico, China and many other countries don’t regulate tap water as strictly the U.S. does, making it risky to drink without boiling or ultraviolet-sterilization. In our country, cold tap water is safe without an electronic purifier or tea kettle, as long as it comes from a municipal or community water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits for the allowable concentration of 90 pollutants, including spores and bacteria. In many cases, those rules are more rigorous than the ones that apply to bottled water from the grocery store.
I’ve seen offices where a water bottle and dispenser are sitting next to a sink faucet. Most people there use the bottle and fill a disposable cup. But the Food and Drug Administration (USDA), not the EPA, makes the rules for the bottled kind. Using the tap water would provide a safer product due to differences in their regulations. In addition, an office water cooler must be cleaned and maintained properly, otherwise it can be a source of bacteria.
Even with a fancy name reminiscent of the great outdoors, bottled water companies often simply repackage their product from a faucet, perhaps after some extra ultraviolet light treatment. Drinking from disposable bottles includes ingestion of microscopic plastic particles. This, plus the amount of trash hitting the landfill or even landscape, doesn’t seem to justify the high purchase price. And yet, with the cleanest tap water regulations anywhere, the U.S. leads the world in bottled water sales.
“I switched to bottles when I learned that our city supplied hard water from the faucets”, somebody once told me. Hall County tap water is unlikely to be hard. But in northwestern Georgia, Walker or Dade County for example, the local bedrock can cause higher hardness. Again, there’s no reason for worry. Water is “hard” when it contains relatively high amounts of calcium or magnesium, elements that our bones need anyway.
At the extreme end of the scale, some buy “ultra-pure” distilled water. It should never be used for drinking because it draws those minerals right out of the body.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.