Thursday, August 30, 2007

On tap: bottled water that’s safe to drink

Water is simple and abundant, but somehow we’ve managed to complicate it. We chlorinate it, fluoridate it, pipe it through copper, lead, steel and PVC. At this point, most tap water tastes so bad and has such a bad rep, many of us have taken to drinking it out of bottles instead. It comes from a spring or is filtered and “purified.” It costs $1.50, $2, $3 or even $4 a bottle, so it must be better than what comes free from the tap, right? Wrong.

First of all, a good deal of what tastes bad isn’t actually bad for you. We need some minerals in our water. Some of the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world drink mineral rich water. Okinawa sits on a coral reef and its population boasts more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world.

All those plastic bottles are worse for the environment than your giant SUV. "Forty-seven million gallons of oil are used and 1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions are produced each year to supply America with plastic water bottles"! (Gaiam)

Last, but certainly not least, the bottle itself is bad for your health. Here’s a new truism: you can take the water out of the bottle but you can’t take the bottle out of your water—not after time and temperature have caused the components of the plastic to leach into your drink. Judging from what I’ve read on other blogs, most people think this is rare and only happens when the plastic is compromised by a scratch or is very old (even though you can often taste and smell the plastic in the water). Or they think some types of plastic, usually polycarbonate, are safe even though other plastics may not be. Or they think the government wouldn’t allow unsafe plastics to be used with food and drink. But according to “Hard to Break” in Mother Jones this month (Elizabeth Grossman, September/October 2007), “The Centers for Disease Control has found two compounds—phthalates, used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic [and many other products including cosmetics], and bisphenol-A, a building block of polycarbonate plastics—in the urine of a majority of Americans tested. Both chemicals… [are] being scrutinized for their potential to mimic and disrupt our hormones—even before we’re born.” This stuff has been linked to birth defects (genital abnormalities), breast and prostate cancer, even obesity and, because of all the plastic in our lives, it’s coursing through our veins! Don’t hold your breath waiting for the government to warn you, it’s more interested in the economic health of major corporations than it is in your health and that of your family.

But I need to carry a bottle of water, you say. I can’t drink tap water, it tastes gross!

There are other alternatives. The ideal is a reverse osmosis filtering system built into your home but this may run you $3,000 or more (if you’ve got the cash, check out the link to Radiant Life in the right hand column). I use a Brita filter but don’t allow the finished water to stand for long periods in the polycarbonate pitcher. You can put it in a glass or stainless pitcher or jar, or just filter it as you use it.

For travel, there are light, slim stainless steel bottles with a choice of caps available from various companies (, www.gaiam .com are two) for a reasonable price. The price is even more reasonable when you consider that you may never have to replace your bottle again. Stainless bottles take dishwasher heat and all sorts of abuse and keep on being inert. Stainless can be filled with acidic beverages, since it is non-reactive. It can be filled with hot beverages safely (though a stainless thermos is recommended for this use). Klean Kanteen even has a smaller size and sippy lids for your toddler.

So the safest, best tasting bottled water is tap water you bottle in stainless steel.

(I don’t recommend Sigg bottles which are made of aluminum on the outside and some unspecified, proprietary lining. Aluminum should never come in contact with food or drink because this can cause heavy metal poisoning. And given that I recently found out I’ve been poisoning myself by drinking out of plastic most of my life, I’m not about to drink out of a secret proprietary lining or anything else unknown.)

According to the Mother Jones article, plastics numbered 3 (PVC), 6 (Polystyrene), and 7 (polycarbonate) should be avoided, while 1, 2, 4, and 5 are ok with food. I go a step farther and try to use none of them with food.


jessica said...

I agree that Sigg bottles are a no-no. I use glass whenever I can. Stainless second. Yes its heavier and breakable, but I am just careful (and maybe a bit stronger and "younger" because of it!). What I am wondering is if you've ever seen a filtration system with either a pitcher or preferably larger holding tank that is made of glass. Something like those tall sun tea/beverage jars with a spigot at the bottom. I know I could just pour my filtered water from the plastic into it, but if I could save a step that would be great. Or, I wonder if I could rig up my own filter in it? hmmmmm...

soothsayer said...

Jessica, check out this Water Crock at Gaiam.

Water passes through a granular activated charcoal filter made from coconut shells and a KDF media, then drips into the lower chamber where it's ready for drinking. The terra cotta keeps the water cool without refrigeration.

The filter removes 95% of chlorine, pesticides, iron, aluminum and lead; and 99% of cryptosporidium, giardia and sediment. Filter lasts six months or 300 gallons.

jessica said...

oh, how i covet that crock... in my next life, perhaps. after i win the lottery. unless santa is noticing what a good girl i've been this year!

what a beaty...

jessica said...

that's beaUty. oops.