Tappening is a firm run by a couple of marketers to get people to drink more tap water and less bottled water.  They sell  refillable water bottles with their logo.  A recent write-up in the NYTimes describes their approach.  Their ad campaign uses absurd claims (such as ‘Bottled Water Causes Blindness in Puppies’) to attract attention, and as examples of what they believe the bottled water industry does.

These guys make some valid arguments.  Tap water is a heck of a lot cheaper than bottled water, and, by and large, it is pretty safe.  And it does seem appropriate for bottled water companies to list water sources, along with treatment methods and the like, on the bottle labels.

However, Tappening may be overlooking some important issues.  Water quality has a relationship to its source.  For example, New York City’s drinking water comes from protected watershed areas where development has always been limited to help protect water quality.  Where I live, you are not allowed to swim in the water supply reservoirs.  However, other people drink water from rivers receiving many different kinds of contaminants, including pathogens and industrial wastewater.  People generally don’t want to swim in those waters, and in some cases may not be allowed to.  Water utilities do have to keep an eye on their watersheds, all the more so watersheds that include a lot of contaminants or potential for spills of toxic materials, for example.  Still, water treatment plants can do a reasonable job of treating water from most sources, making it safe by current drinking water standards.  (Although standards are always evolving.)

In addition, water quality can deteriorate substantially in the distribution system.  Tap water can hang out for days in the system after it is produced.  (More on why that is the case in another post.)  Bugs can grow, and disinfection byproducts can increase in concentration.

The Tappening folks do have a pretty good suggestion for people who are concerned about their tap water:

For those who feel tap water is any less clean than bottled water, filters may be purchased; buying filter cartridges once or twice a year requires much fewer resources than buying bottled water each day.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of data on those little cartridges that people put on the end of their kitchen faucets or use in pictures.  The data they put in the inserts really is not very useful, as it tells little or nothing about how these filters perform over time, nor what sort of water quality they used for tests.  I’ve tried to talk to the makers of the PUR filter, but have not been able to get through to their technical people.  There are technical reasons to believe that flow-through units will work better for a longer time than the pitcher-type cartridges.