Turn on the Tap: Save Money, Natural Resources & The Environment!

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It is estimated the bottled water industry is a $7.7 billion a year business in the United States alone. Many Americans are willing to pay 240 to 10,000 times more for bottled water than they do for tap water. A person drinking the recommended 8 glasses of water a day could spend up to $1,400 in one year for bottled water. That same amount of tap water would cost around 50 cents. Bottled water at a cost of $1 to $2 for a 20-ounce bottle, in most instances, is more expensive than gasoline. The majority of this extra cost is associated with packaging and transporting the finished product. Bottling and shipping water is the least efficient and most expensive method of water delivery, and our wallet isn’t the only thing suffering from the “bottled water syndrome”. It is reeking havoc on the environment as well. Each bottle requires nearly five times its volume in water to manufacture the plastic and can cause the release of nickel, ethylene oxide and benzene back into the wastewater, which then enters the local waterways and the atmosphere. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most commonly used plastic for making water bottles. PET is derived from crude oil. According to a study conducted by the Earth Policy Institute, more than 17 million barrels of oil are used annually to meet Americans’ demands in manufacturing water bottles. That translates to enough fuel for more than 1 million U.S. cars for a year. Eliminating just the plastic used to make water bottles would be equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The crude oil required to make the water bottles is only a drop in the barrel when compared to the amount of fuel required to transport the water once it is bottled. The U.S. imports water from as far away as Italy and France or Fiji, a distance of more than 5000 miles, and at the same time exports water bottled in the United States to other countries as well as within the country traveling from state to state. Nearly one-fourth of all bottled water will cross a national border as it is transported by ships, trains and trucks.

Sometimes the big tap water turn off is associated with the taste or smell. Keeping a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator will usually make a big difference. This allows the unwanted odors or taste to dissipate. Filtration is another inexpensive alternative. American Water Works Association reports most Americans pay about $2 per 1000 gallons for tap water. This equals two thousandths of a penny ($0.002) per gallon. Filtering tap water with an under the counter system increases the cost to around 10 cents per gallon, still very much less costly than bottled water. Keep in mind that filtering water removes the disinfectants that prevent microbial and bacterial growth. It should be stored in the refrigerator the same as food. Do not wait to long to drink it. Remember to change the filters according to manufacturer’s recommendations. A water filter left to long can will reduce efficiency and harm water quality. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of bottled water while at the same time has the greatest access to the safest, and usually the least expensive, public drinking water supplies. Turn on the tap! It will save you money, the nation’s resources and the world’s environment.

Don’t take it for granted that your bottled water is safer, cleaner or purer than water from your tap. The Food and Water Watch Organization, a nonprofit consumer rights organization based in Washington D.C., reports, “Bottled water generally is no cleaner, or safer, or healthier than tap water. In fact, the federal government requires far more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of municipal drinking water.” The stricter standards for tap water are due to the monitoring efforts of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the direction of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The considerably weaker testing and monitoring standards that apply to bottled water are controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the direction of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Water, in its natural state is inclined to bacterial and microbial growth. It is also the universal solvent, wearing away or washing out anything it comes in contact with and absorbing contaminants along the way. Drinking water operators, rather tap water suppliers or water bottlers, MUST be knowledgeable in proper drinking water treatment in order to protect the health of water drinkers. The Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996, under the direction of the EPA, require all municipal water system operators (tap water suppliers) be educated and/or trained in drinking water treatment. It also requires drinking water operators be certified as competent to treat water by EPA or by an EPA-approved authorities such as the Department of Natural Resources here in the state of Missouri. The certification is pursuant to federal guidelines for determining the level of competency needed for the type of water treatment being performed. The State of Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) also require ongoing training to maintain, review and update drinking water treatment skills for tap water suppliers. These are very important requirements as they help to greatly reduce the opportunity for operator error, often the cause of contamination problems. The FDA, on the other hand, does not require drinking water operator education, training or certification in water bottling plants in any state. Not even the supervisory personnel at water bottling plants are required to be certified as competent.

EPA rules are very clear in prohibiting any confirmed E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria in tap water. FDA has not adopted this prohibition, but rather set a maximum number of total coliform bacteria in bottled water with no specific prohibition on fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli contamination in bottled water. EPA’s tap water rules require disinfection and filtration for cities such as Moberly that use surface water. Disinfection is used to kill bacteria (e.g. coliform and Legionella) and viruses. The filtration removes certain protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia (parasites). Larger cities, those with a population of 100,000 and over, are required to test for bacteria over 100 times per month. Moberly, which serves a population of fewer than 13,000 runs a minimum of 15 coliform bacteria tests per month. FDA rules for bottled water plants, even those filling many thousands of bottles per day, require testing for coliform bacteria only ONCE PER WEEK. EPA’s municipal tap water regulatory standards for several chemicals are also much stricter than the standards for bottled water. To date, FDA has not set standards or treatment techniques for acrylamide, asbestos, di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) or epichlorohydrin, all of which EPA strictly regulates in tap water.

EPA rules require tap water suppliers MUST report all of their required monitoring results and any drinking water standards violations to EPA or the state if it has “primary enforcement authority” as Missouri does. Tap water suppliers are also required to keep their bacterial results on file for 5 years and chemical tests for 10 years. This allows for effective EPA and state facility inspections and compliance tracking. The National Resources Defense Council report states, “FDA rules include no provision obligating a bottler to notify FDA or a state of test results, contamination problems, or violations, even in the case of contamination that could pose a serious health threat.” Also, FDA requires test results be kept for only two years. By the FDA’s own admission, bottled water plants are inspected MAYBE once every 4 or 5 years. This combination of not reporting, rare inspections and the short amount of time test results are kept on file contributes to many contamination problems never being found by FDA and makes enforcement and compliance monitoring nonexistent. It also means that bottled water drinkers who want to know what is in their drinking water, or if any violations of water quality standards have occurred are out of luck. Tap water drinkers, on the other hand, have access to any and all possible violations of drinking water standards through EPA’s web site and the yearly publication of the Consumer Confidence Report. The Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is an annual water quality report that a municipal or community water system is required to provide to its customers. The CCR is a general overview of the water quality delivered to your tap. The report lists the regulated contaminants that were detected and the levels at which they were found. It also lists any possible health effects related to the contaminants. Once again Moberly proudly proclaims that the City’s compliance with all state and federal drinking water laws remains exemplary. (Copies of the City’s CCR are available at City Hall.) Matt Everts, Chief Operator, and his crew at the Drinking Water Treatment Plant are committed to keeping the City of Moberly supplied with an abundance of safe drinking water. Turn on the tap and experience it for yourself!

Americans consume seven billion gallons of water a year, one little bottle at a time. A person has to wonder what becomes of all those empty bottles and how are they are impacting the environment. Water bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a derivative of crude oil. PET is a high quality grade of plastic and quite durable. Reuse of the plastic bottle, which would appear to be a viable option, is not recommended. The plastic contains synthetic organic chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and durability of the plastic, but the phthalates will leach out of the plastic as the plastic ages. The phthalates readily leave the plastic and enter whatever the plastic comes into contact with, such as the drinking water in the bottle or the creek the discarded bottle found its way to. Phthalates have been found in both ground water and surface water due to the leaching factor that is then compounded by the great number of discarded bottles. The full effects of phthalates on the environment and ultimately in the health of people are still being studied.

The high quality plastic in water bottles is in great demand by recyclers yet, according to estimates by the Container Recycling Institute, more than 80 percent of these plastic bottles are thrown away. Earth Policy Institute reports that in 2005, 52 billion plastic bottles and jugs were burned, went to landfills, or worse, they became litter. Millions of discarded bottles never make it to the landfill, but are littered along our highways, county roads and city streets. And, there is not a city street, county road or highway in this entire nation that is immune to the “bottled water syndrome”. These discarded bottles are such a part of our every day environment that they have become “invisible”, so much so that we don’t even notice them scattered along the roadways or cluttered around our feet. We probably would have been buried under them by now if it were not for the rain. No, the rain does not decompose them, scientific estimates put the time it takes for the empties to decompose at 400 to 1000 years. The rainfall and subsequent runoff merely moves them down the street to the storm drain or ditch on their way to the nearest creek or lake and eventually as far away as the ocean. Vast eddies of littered plastic bottles have been reported, spinning endlessly on the ocean’s currents. One of those bottles could be a bottle you saw lying at the edge of the street or in the road ditch recently. Landlocked as we may appear, storm drains transform each of our yards into beachfront property via area creeks and rivers within our small watersheds which in turn become a part of the larger watersheds and ultimately, our connection with the world’s oceans.

Two million plastic beverage bottles, that’s the number of bottles used in the United States every 5 minutes, according to Food and Water Watch, a consumer rights organization based in Washington D.C. That is a very large number of plastic bottles to wrap your mind around, but that number can be reduced one bottle at a time. There are simple, inexpensive alternatives to bottled water. If it is the taste or smell of your tap water that is the big turn off, an inexpensive, point-of-use carbon filter will turn most tap water sparkling fresh for just pennies a glass. Sometimes just storing a pitcher of water in the fridge over night will do the trick. Use a stainless steel thermos for water on the go. They are easy to clean, well insulated and unbreakable. There is a cure for the “bottled water syndrome”. Turn on the tap! It will protect your environment and your future.