Photo: Mark Lee / Flickr

LAist declares in a recent post that “LA’s Water is Officially as Clean as Bottled Water.”  The article cites LADWP’s move toward using UV light to disinfect water and to its annual Drinking Water Quality report which tells you everything you need to know about what is in the city’s tap water. “Save your money,” Albert Rodriguez, a spokesman for the LADWP, told KABC news. “Your water coming out of your tap is just as good or if not, better” than bottled water or water treated with various devices. What’s more, at half a cent per gallon, it’s a whole lot cheaper, too.

As an environmental lawyer with a specialty in plastic pollution, I would add an important qualification to this good news. Bottled water is not even close to being a safe alternative to tap water. This is not new information. It’s just that tap water doesn’t spend the billions in advertising their product that bottled water companies do.

In my 2010 article about Sparklett’s misleading advertising campaign tying their BPA water bottles to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Charity, I noted that BPA is a cause of breast cancer and actually inhibits treatment of breast cancer. Furthermore, single-use plastic bottles made of PET are also estrogenic and therefore cancer promoting. Scientists at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany discovered that chemicals in PET plastics have the potential to interfere with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, just as BPA and phthalates — already banned in the U.S. from infant products — do. Lead researcher Professor Martin Wagner says: “If you drink water from plastic bottles, you have a high probability of drinking estrogenic compounds.” Overall, Professor Wagner says, levels of these compounds in the water were surprisingly high and “having done all of these experiments, I started drinking tap water.”

The WeTap app. (Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle)

The WeTap app. (Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle)

There is, of course, a secondary reason not to drink bottled water. Much of it IS tap water simply bottled for convenience when you could just carry your own reusable bottle and not add to the continual stream of plastic pollution that is poisoning our environment, especially the majority of the earth that is water covered. The fish eat our plastic pollution and we eat the fish. It is similar to the way our fish becomes poisoned with mercury from our burning coal that creates methylmercury in the air that falls on the ocean. We reap what we sow in terms of pollution, and plastic pollution is increasing and filling our oceans with microplastic pieces that have entered the food chain.

For this reason, after many years of fighting plastic pollution with legislation, I have begun to focus on improving access to safe drinking water in public venues, especially in schools and parks, so that plastic bottles can be as outmoded as coal as they both cause significant environmental damage and are easily replaced with sustainable solutions. Here is an article from my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, on the solutions to prevent plastic pollution and improve tap water access. Water fountains, especially those that can refill water bottles on the go, eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. WeTap even has a free app to find fountains and rate them. You can also see happy water drinkers all over the planet drinking from fountains on our WeTap Instagram page.

Erin Brockovich has attacked LADWP in a Facebook post that is alarmist at best, dangerous at worst and she presents no solutions. Here is Brockovich’s post:

While I respect Brockovich for her tireless efforts to uncover villains poisoning us with chemicals for profit, LADWP is not an appropriate target for her anger. LADWP is moving in the right direction with UV treatment and the water is tested to show it is safe now.

Bottled water is tap water in many cases just with added chemicals from the bottles themselves. Tap water is more tested than bottled water and there is transparency in reporting, unlike with the contaminants in bottled water. With all due respect to Brockovich, Natural Resource Defense Council (The Truth about Tap), Environmental Working Group (Guide to Safe Drinking Water)  and Food and Water Watch (Guide to Tap Water)  are more trusted sources on this. Read their reports!

You can filter your own tap water if you want to. I am not for disguising the real problems we face in terms of our pollution impacting our water sources. That is the fight! But we can’t stop drinking water, and this type of alarmism is like saying let’s stop public schools because they are bad and just leave the kids uneducated. Let the rich pay for school. Except that analogy also presumes public schools are all bad and private schools are all good — equally not true. Just because you pay 1,000 times more for water in plastic does not make it safer.

The real threat is Trump’s dismantling of the EPA, but don’t think that won’t impact all water. The water cycle is one cycle — what pollutes the air, land and water pollutes all our waters. And our food is all grown with… guess what? Water! Here is a good site from the U.S. Geological Service on how chemicals impact the water cycle. We need to be sensible in fighting the real enemies — the politicians who allow chemical corporations like Dow and Monsanto to rule over us by rolling back regulations on the coal industry, allowing them to dump their poison in our waters, which causes mercury poisoning of our fish, and turning back efficiency standards on cars that spew poison into our air.

Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle

Trump’s EPA just approved a horrible pesticide — chlorpyrifos — that Obama’s EPA wanted to ban and Trump signed an executive order decreasing regulations that protect us all then handed the pen to the CEO of Dow Chemicals. In addition, the brave water warriors who have been protecting our land from more oil spills have now been rebuffed by Trump who eagerly approved the Keystone Pipeline just as a giant spill of oil into the Ash Coulee Creek happened 200 miles from where protestors are fighting the Dakota pipeline.

Oil is a real threat to our drinking water and we should concentrate on the real villains threatening our water — not the public water agencies. Decision makers like those in Flint, Michigan who put profits over people. Look to Betsy Devos and the Koch Brothers for setting that horror in motion.  But even the horror of Flint doesn’t mean we should abandon our public water system, just as we shouldn’t abandon public education. Adding plastic bottles made of petrochemicals to contain our water is not a solution to water pollution.

Let’s join with the water warriors and demand that our leaders stop giving pesticide and oil companies more protection than our water. I myself filter at the tap just for peace of mind about the pipes through which our water is delivered (Brockovich is much needed in the fight to get Trump to improve our outdated infrastructure) but your tap water is NOT the enemy.

Lisa Kaas Boyle is an environmental attorney who serves as Executive Director of WeTap, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the drinking fountain as the only sustainable way to keep the public healthy and hydrated while reducing plastic pollution.

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