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Time for a Nice Cold One
(Safe Drinking Water)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article originally appeared on page 11 in the June 19-20, 2004 issue
Entitled: How Safe Is Tap Water to Drink?
Reprinted on page 20 in the July 9-10, 2005 issue of
The Mississauga News Health & Wellness, Medical Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

When I was in grade 7, a company dumping toxic waste down a storm sewer contaminated a local pond in the High Park area. It resulted in a six-inch layer of dead fish along the top surface of the brown muddy water. My science class sold glass bottles of distilled water to raise funds to promote awareness of the preciousness of our water supply. Public attitude was that fresh water was an abundant inexhaustible commodity. People laughed and jeered at paying 25 cents for water. The campaign didn't go well. Yet a quarter of century later, bottled water is selling at a feverish pace, and we now consider it a valuable resource. On the one hand, it is refreshing to see that drinking pure water is regaining popularity, but yet I wonder what forces drive this resurrection. I admit that it may be a matter of convenience and taste over price. That handy little bottle goes everywhere, and seems cleaner than drinking from a fountain.

Tap water from large municipal supplies is just as safe or safer than bottled water. It must meet strict testing and retesting standards and has the benefit of fluoridation. No harmful bacteria can be present. Bottled water must meet some of the same criteria. It is allowed to contain non-pathogenic bacteria in small amounts. Bottled water is not sterile and should not be used as such. Once opened, it should be refrigerated between uses. All bottled water is not the same and it is generally no safer than tap water. Ontario has fairly good regulations, but travel south and you can never be sure what you are getting or where it comes from. So beware.

Canada regulates the labeling to some degree. Water labeled as "spring" or "mineral" simply means that it did not come from a municipal source but originated from some other underground source. It is more likely to be a drilled-well in a field than a sprouting natural spring. Without this designation, the water probably originated from a tap somewhere and underwent treatment. Distilled water is any water that was boiled to evaporation and then re-condensed into liquid again. It removes impurities and produces a bland taste. Other common practices include ozonation and charcoal filtration. Canadian labels have to state how the water was treated, and state the mineral content. The profit margins are quite lucrative, and the demand is so great that ground water tables are being depleted. This prompted the provincial government to place a temporary ban on new water-draw licenses last December.

The Walkerton Incident instilled a real fear of tap water in many people. My cottage water comes from a drilled well 200 feet deep into the Canadian Shield. The slight mineral content and year round cold temperature imparts a wonderful taste. We test it regularly to ensure that it is free of bacteria, yet visitors continue to amuse us by bringing bottled water from unknown sources rather than drink water out of "the tap". No amount of reassurance, beer or psychotherapy can convince them to drink tap water, yet mix it with juice or scotch and it seems fine. Fortunately this practice does assure me of an endless supply of bottles, which I readily fill with my own water for sport use. Re-use of plastic bottles is another contentious issue. On one hand, it benefits the industry to have a no-reuse policy. On the other hand, I feel that if properly rinsed, there is little problem in re-using the same bottle a few times. Try to use the water within a day or two of refilling. There are unconfirmed rumors of unknown origin that the plastic may leech toxins after some time. For this reason I would advocate rotating bottles every month, or better yet switch to non-plastic. My advice for those truly interested in natural water supplies is to find a reliable source. Investigate where the water comes from and how it is treated. Tap water is far cheaper than bottled. Taste can be altered with an economical carbon filter system. So get up, walk to the tap and have a cold one on me!

Related resources:

5 Common Myths About Water, Explained from Culligan Water. Myth 1: Bottled water is safer than tap water. 2: Tap water cannot contain pesticides. 3: Bottled water doesn't contain microplastics. 4: Drinking sparkling water while eating aids digestion. 5: Drinking water increases water retention.

The Truth About Bottled Water by Chris Topher. YouTube video, 12:46 min.

Five Myths About Drinking Water by Allison Aubrey, Heard on Morning Edition, National Public Radio (NPR), 12:26 AM ET, Apr. 3, 2008.

Is Tap Water Safe to Drink? By Earth Talk, Free Drinking Water, Mar. 4, 2019. Bottled water is not always a healthier option.

13 Myths and Facts about drinking water by Magnus, TAPP Water, Feb. 2, 2019.

Safe Drinking Water In 2021: Progress Made But So Much Further To Go by Dr. Jonathan Doyle, Waterdrop, June 20, 2021.

Michael Pritchard makes filthy water drinkable. YouTube video, 10:05 min. Filmed Jul 2009. Too much of the world lacks access to clean drinking water. Engineer Michael Pritchard ... inventing the portable Lifesaver filter, which can make the most revolting water drinkable in seconds. An amazing demo.

The Wetter Water Report. What You Don't Know About Water May Kill You. The Secrets to Longevity and Health by Dr. Patrick Flanagan.

Creating & Storing an Emergency Water Supply from CDC.

Unicef's Water Game Plan from UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). UNICEF is committed to support water services for the most disadvantaged ... This document presents UNICEF's 'game plan' to contribute to achieve universal safe and sustainable water services for all by 2030, and accelerate access to safely managed drinking water.

Ground Water and Drinking Water from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Groundwater Fundamentals from National Ground Water Association Academic & Science (NGWA). All About Groundwater. Groundwater Facts. Groundwater is the water that fills cracks and other openings in beds of rocks and sand.

Safe Water Emergency Storage from Homeland Security.

Water On Tap: What You Need to Know. Includes Highlights of the Safe Drinking Water Act, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Second Opinions: The Bottled Boom - Why Buy Bottled Water?

Are You More Vulnerable to Drinking Water Contaminants? What water is safe to drink for someone who is more vulnerable to Crypto and other waterborne microbial diseases? Is lead in drinking water dangerous for children? How do I know if lead is in my tap water? The Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water (CSADW) is an alliance of over 300 organizations working to protect drinking water in the United States.

Tap Water Quality and Safety.

Acid Rain and Tap Water.

Tap water from Wikipedia.

What's Actually in Your Tap Water? From Greatist, March 21, 2013. Tap water comes from one of two sources: surface water (including reservoirs, rivers, and lakes) or groundwater (from artesian and deep wells).

Drinking Water Information: Bottled Water or Tap Water?

Soft drink is purified tap water.

Drinking tap water may not be a real good idea!

'Just Say No to H2O' (Unless It's Coke's Own Brew). This article is no longer accessible. But check out: This Day in Water History. A little bit of water history - one day at a time. "September 2, 2001: An article published in the New York Times on this date reported on the H2NO campaign by Coca-Cola. H2NO refers to an effort by Coca-Cola to dissuade consumers from ordering tap water drinks at restaurants, and to instead order more profitable soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages, or bottled water. The campaign's title, H2NO, reflects the program's purpose, which is to have customers say No to H2O, the chemical formula for water. The program taught waiters how to use 'suggestive selling techniques' to offer an onslaught of alternative beverages when diners asked for water."

Don't Say No to H2O from Board of Water Supply.

Coca-Cola Admits That Dasani Is Nothing But Tap Water from Free Drinking Water.

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