WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE -- BUT DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DRINK IT?
ST. PAUL, Minn., Oct. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Millions of Americans have a bad taste in their mouths. The presidential campaign? Nope. We're talking water. The stuff that comes out of your tap but may bear only slight resemblance to anything you'd actually want to drink. Water that looks like something drained from a fish tank, smells like a swamp, or reminds you of laundry bleach. Here, in the world's richest country, about 20 percent of all Americans think their drinking water stinks -- sometimes literally.
That's the finding of a survey commissioned by EcoWater Systems, a leading manufacturer of water filtration and purification products. About a third of those who don't think their water supply is acceptable say they dislike its taste, while another 20 percent are put off by its color and overall appearance.
"Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who feel the aesthetic value of their water -- its looks and taste -- leaves something to be desired," observed Ed Fierko, president of EcoWater.
But it's not just bad smell and fishy taste that's putting a lot of us off tap water. It's also fear of contamination. The survey found that nearly half of the people who say their drinking water is unacceptable cite contaminants as the main cause of concern.
They have good reason for concern. The EPA has determined that some 40,000 public water systems will not meet its new water quality standards. The main culprits are lead, nitrates left over from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, radon, and "volatile organic compounds" -- chemicals used in a wide range of ways, from degreasers to dry cleaning fluids to household spot removers -- and trihalomethanes, carcinogenic compounds formed when the chlorine used as a purifier reacts with decayed vegetation present in the water supply.
The worst and most prevalent of these is lead, which can cause a host of maladies from lowered IQs to infertility and mental illness. The government estimates that one out of six American children is exposed to lead through drinking water -- this at a time when studies suggest that previous estimates of "safe" lead levels may be too high by a factor of 10. Lead is rarely present in water when it leaves treatment plants. After that, watch out. Then it leaches into tap water from old, lead-lined pipes as well as from the solder used to join modern copper pipes.
Meanwhile, even though public water supplies may pose the biggest single health risk in the country, the EPA is giving public utilities up to 30 years to implement new water quality standards. As one expert puts it, generations of children still unborn in this country will face the risk of physical and mental harm caused by water-bourne lead.
Where you live plays a role in how likely you are to think your drinking water is unacceptable. Twenty-eight percent of the residents of the Western region of the continental United States say water is a problem, as opposed to 14 percent of those polled in the North Central region, 17 percent in the Northeast, and 20 percent in the South.
There are also regional variations in the "Tastes Bad" versus "Bad For You" evaluation of water quality. If you live out west or in New England you're more likely to think the problem is taste, smell, or appearance. If you live in the upper Midwest, meanwhile, you're more likely to think that contamination is the culprit.
The survey results bear out impressionistic evidence of widespread dissastisfaction with American water supplies. Like, for example, the size of the bottled water industry. Americans now spend about $2 billion a year for water they buy at a store or have delivered to their homes.
Unfortunately, despite designer labels and often pricy costs, bottled water may be no safer -- or, in fact, less safe -- than tap water. Regulations for bottled water are few and ineffectively enforced. Companies selling water from "artesian wells" or "glacial springs" may very well be offering water drawn from a city tap. Many kinds of "pure spring water" have been processed to remove chlorine -- which kills bacteria and viruses -- then sit in warehouses or on store shelves before reaching the consumer, by which time bacteria and viruses may have multiplied to levels far worse than anything you're going to encounter in tap water.
News of the distressing facts about bottled water has now been aired in Congressional hearings, and on "20/20" and "60 Minutes," and has at least temporarily flattened consumer purchases of bottled water after a decade of skyrocketing demand.
"People have taken to drinking bottled water not because of concern over contamination in their tap water but because it tastes better," said Fierko. "People are now beginning to realize that they are paying 10 or even a hundred times more for bottled water than what comes out of the tap but they don't really know where it comes from or how it's processed."
With so many reasons to doubt the safety and palatability of our water supplies, and new doubts about the safety of bottled water, it's probably not surprising that nearly half of all Americans believe they have little control over the quality of water piped into their homes.
But, in fact they do have control -- and at a cost which is about a third to a half the price per gallon of bottled water -- using counter- top filtration and distillation systems. There are several different kinds of effective home-filtration or home-purification systems available on the market, ranging in cost from carbon filtration systems at the low end to distillation units at the high end. With carbon filter systems, you can expect to pay about $.15 per gallon for filtered water. A $99 portable distiller from a reputable manufacturer like EcoWater produces purified water at an average price of $.30 to $.35 per gallon; nationwide, distilled water sells for about $.79 to $1.25 per gallon.
The first step if you have concerns about your home water supply is to have the water tested. It's simple and inexpensive. Just make sure the company doing the testing has been in business for a while and has a good reputation. The same advice holds true if you decide to go with a filtration system. It's also wise to check whether the filtration equipment is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation and comes with performance data sheets that tell you exactly how much of specific contaminants the system removes.
"Problems with water are often difficult to detect by eye," said Fierko. "You need to have your water tested to find out what's really wrong. Lead and nitrates, for example, are not detectable by taste. In fact, water may taste very good but be harmful. It's the things you don't see that you need to be concerned about."
For a free educational booklet on water quality problems and solutions, call EcoWater's consumer information line, 1-800-86WATER, and ask for the booklet, "The Water in Your Life."
/NOTE: Fierko is available for interviews. Photos of water filtration and purification systems are available upon request/
/CONTACT: Tom Jollie or Julie Klaustermeier of Padilla Speer Beardsley, 612-297-6500, for a copy of the water quality survey, of Floyd Smith of EcoWater, 1-800-86WATER/ CO: EcoWater ST: Minnesota IN: SU:
KH -- MN024 -- 4066 10/23/92 10:35 EDT