Eco Wise

Know Your Drinking Water: Bottled vs. Brita

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Many people perceive bottled water as the picture of purity. But not only are federal quality standards for bottled water less stringent than they are for tap water, the bottles themselves are problematic for the planet.

Each year, Americans throw out 2 million tons of polyethylene bottles -- commonly used for drinks such as Dasani and Aquafina -- which require 18 million barrels of oil to replace, according to the Container Recycling Institute. True, the bottles can be recycled, but making them into new bottles requires adding more virgin petroleum. And shipping them around the world requires even more fossil fuel and creates carbon emissions. Because of this, environmental activists and a growing number of restaurants are propagating a pro-tap water movement.

So just how safe is the region's tap water? The good news is that the systems are regularly monitored and treated. (Water-quality reports for many areas are viewable at The District's water, which is harvested from the Potomac River, has had several high-lead-level scares in recent years but is now within federal limits. And the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which oversees the city's supply, is taking steps to improve the situation. "WASA has replaced 10,855 of the estimated 34,000 publicly owned lead service lines with copper pipe," spokeswoman Michele Quander-Collins says.

The right water filter can make a difference: Look for an activated charcoal filter with an NSF 53 certification seal on the box; that means it has been proved to remove such health-threatening contaminants as lead, microbes and volatile organic compounds, rather than merely improving taste and odor.

For children who'll be drinking from school fountains (some of which recently tested high for lead in the District), a portable filter bottle isn't a bad idea. (The most popular brands, Brita and Pur, make widely available versions.) Even if you're exercising, driving or otherwise on the go, you can simply fill a reusable bottle with filtered water from home. It's the cleaner -- and greener -- choice.

-- Eviana Hartman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company