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Is bottled water safer than your tap water?

James Salzman, a professor of environmental policy at the UCLA School of Law, was giving a class lecture when he got the idea to write his book, Drinking Water: A History. It came to him as he made the point that more people have access to safe drinking water now than ever before in history. As he shared this idea with his students, he noticed that many of them had single-use, plastic bottles of water on their desks. He asked himself, if safe drinking water is so prevalent, why do so many people drink bottled water?

In the course of researching his book, he uncovered three main reasons: convenience, fashion, and safety. (In this interview about his book, Salzman doesn’t seem to be a fan of plastic bottled water either.) Let’s take a look at each reason and uncover the truth behind it.

Convenience

People think bottled water is more convenient. Yes, you can pick it up and take it anywhere, but at what cost? Single-use plastic water bottles are a major contributor to plastic pollution around the world, especially in oceans.

Fashion

Bottled water as we know it came into vogue in the 1990s, and it’s been growing in popularity since. However, it’s possible that we may have reached peak bottled water. As more people become aware of the hazards of bottled water, they are turning back to the tap. Several campaigns, like this one at Drake University, have banned single-use bottled water from college campuses and other areas.

Safety

Returning to Salzman’s interview, he says that in the United States, there’s no reason to assume bottled water is safer than tap water. He explains that bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), falling under the category of a food stuff. Tap water, on the other hand, is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The testing by the EPA is much more rigorous than the FDA. Salzman concludes, “Just because it comes in a bottle doesn’t mean it’s necessarily cleaner.” Plus there’s the issue of microplastics.

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