Just how clean is your bottled water?
The importance of water in our lives can’t be overstated, but many of us don’t think too much about the quality of the water we consume. We take for granted that the bottled stuff is safe and that tap water is potable when boiled, but this is far from true. If you want to avoid health issues related to unsafe water, it’s best to understand the risks so that you can protect yourself against them.
To really come to grips with the issue of water safety, it’s important to first understand where the water that comes out of your tap comes from. It starts off as source water, which is the raw material, and then it goes to a water treatment plant to be cleaned. At this point, it becomes perfectly safe to drink. In fact, according to Charlie Thomson of Environment Assured, “in terms of healthiness and mineral content, Beijing’s water is almost ideal. It matches U.S. government requirements on mineral water.”
But, all good things must pass, and once the water is made potable, it quickly leaves the treatment plant through pipes and becomes tainted. As the pipe network is fairly old and decrepit, it can allow microorganisms and chemicals to seep into the water. Some pipe components even include dangerous materials like lead, so the water that passes through them can become polluted with heavy metals.
Bottled water is also not as safe as we might be tempted to believe because, according to Thomson:
“Bottled water is just filtered tap water. The water is coming from a city somewhere, and it’s being put through a factory filter and into a bottle.”
There are also very few independent tests done on bottled water here, so we don’t really know exactly what’s in it. In addition to this, there is an issue with fake bottled water, which isn’t regulated at all and could be coming from anywhere.
If the water coming out of taps was safe, then we could drink both tap water and bottled water, but replacing all the dangerous pipes that our water goes through would be a mammoth task, as the network is vast and far-reaching. Regardless, measures are being taken to ensure that China has safe drinking water. “Beijing has put billions of dollars in the last several years towards fixing the pipe distribution system, putting in new pipes and upgrading the disinfection systems in the water processing plants,” says Thomson.
We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now
Until the old pipe network is replaced, however, tap and bottled water are unsafe because both may contain chemicals, microorganisms, and heavy metals. Agricultural chemicals that end up in drinking water can cause cell damage and organ failure, micro-organisms can cause infections, and heavy metals can collect in your body and cause problems with the nervous system. According to Thomson, children with too much lead in their systems can develop lower IQs and behavioral disorders.
You can get your blood tested for lead at many of Beijing’s international hospitals, and they can recommend treatments if your lead levels are high, but it’s best to take preventative measures because the effectiveness of these treatments is contested.
It may seem like there’s not much we can do to keep from being poisoned by our water, but there are measures you can take to keep from ingesting all the nasty stuff that could be coming out of your kitchen tap or water dispenser. Boiling your water or treating it with UV light can kill microorganisms and reduce your risk of getting a virus or infection from your water, but boiling won’t remove any chemicals or heavy metals.
To get rid of those, you need to set yourself up with a filter. These have been tested independently, and many can be bought on Taobao. Go to info.nsf.org/Certified/dwtu/listings.asp to see how different brands of filters performed, and select yours accordingly. Don’t buy a water filter designed for use overseas, though: Your filter needs to have been designed for Chinese water, otherwise it will likely not protect against the chemicals and heavy metals present here. Thomson recommends Aquasana’s water filters, as they are a reliable brand that consistently performs well on tests.