It’s common knowledge that we need water to live and we know huge sums of money are spent on bottled water, but is that preferable to water straight from the tap?
With regard to bottled water vs. tap water, the jury is still out and – such is the strength of feeling about it from different quarters – it may never come in! Part of the problem lies in inconsistency in what the alternatives mean. Much bottled water is little or no more than tap water, rather than genuine mineral water, and may contain more harmful pollutants than water from your own tap.
The use (and especially, re-use) of some plastic bottles has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer and, if you’re interested in the planet’s health as well as your own, a further problem is the production and disposal of the plastic bottles themselves. According to one source, 200,000 sq. miles (500,000 sq. km) of forest area is needed just to compensate for the amount of CO2 produced per year in the production of plastic bottles, and that about 10 billion bottles are added to landfill sites every year.
The minerals in mineral water don’t particularly promote the cause as they can be obtained from other food sources.
Is tap water safe to drink?
On the other hand, some experts are critical of the level of certain impurities in tap water including the presence of Arsenic, Aluminium and Fluoride.
Is there a danger from chlorine in drinking water?
So the pro-chlorine camp assert that, without it, we would be exposed to a whole host of nasties. That much is undeniably true. Introduced to prevent typhoid fever, chlorination has also helped prevent widespread cholera, hepatitis and dysentery among other illnesses.
Unfortunately, being good in one sense doesn’t mean it can’t be bad in another and the anti-chlorine camp will point to figures indicating that it is highly unhealthy. More specifically, it is not just the chlorine itself which is bad, and (much) worse than the chlorine itself, but the interaction of chlorine with small amounts of organic matter found naturally in water is said to form dangerous disinfection by-products (DBPs), especially Trihalomethanes (THMs) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA’s), which are thought to increase the risk of various diseases, including cancer.
Unfortunately, if you think you’ll revert to bottled water after all, DBP’s have also been found in bottled water (possibly because many types of bottled water are not different from tap water) and the standards governing tap water tend to be higher, if anything, than those for bottled water.
If you’re concerned about any of these issues, the best bet, short of drinking mountain spring water you collect yourself, which is a little impractical if you live in London, is probably to drink either a particular brand of mineral water which you know to be reliably sourced (and, if it’s plastic, don’t re-use the bottle), or to fit an activated-carbon filter to your water system.
If we need salt, why can’t we drink salt water?
“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
The sun is shining, you’re thirsty but surrounded by water. What’s the problem?The problem is twofold. Cells in the body are hydrated by osmosis in which the salinated water, both inside and outside the cell wall, is maintained at an equal (isotonic) concentration. As a cell uses up water, the concentration of salt increases, so the lighter fluid (lighter in salt concentration that is – not the stuff you put in your Zippo!) from outside is drawn in through the cell membrane to equalise the balance.When sea-water is consumed, the level of salt is far higher than that inside the cell so, no matter how dehydrated you are, water rushes out of the cell to maintain that balance. The cells don’t ‘know’ that you’re dehydrated, it is just a physical process, so just when your cells need more water, they’re losing more.Furthermore, the kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than sea-water. To rid the body of the salt taken in by drinking sea-water, you would have to urinate more water than you drank. So you become more dehydrated, not less. The kidneys cannot cope with the increasing salt level and eventually shut down, ultimately causing death.Now you might be thinking: “If I had some fresh water and mixed it with a little sea water to lower the salinity to a level the cells and the kidneys could cope with, would that extend the period I would have fresh water?”Although there is an argument which promotes that idea, even if it worked, the amount of fresh water you would need as a ratio would probably make it not worth the risk, and most survival manuals – consistently consider any intake of sea-water an absolute no-no.