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French authorities became alarmed at 262,000 tons of plastic waste generated from drinking water bottles. Recognizing the cost to the sanitation ministries and environment, officials started campaigns to persuade French people to drink more tap water.

The Cases For and Against Tap Water

Then Anne Le Strat, chairman of Eau de Paris, had a great idea. She persuaded Paris city officials to install a tap water fountain with a feature that would make the water fizzy.

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Called La Pétillante, literally, She Who Sparkles, this fountain installed in the Jardin de Reuilly park in southeast Paris adds carbon dioxide bubbles to still tap water. This more interesting beverage was made avaialable for free to passers by. Installed at a cost of €75,000 (US $110,000), the fountain delivers warm, still tap water, or chilled tap water with bubbles.

Le Strat's idea worked. In just the first year, sales of home carbonation machines more than doubled as French people seized the opportunity to turn virtually free tap water into a tastier environmentally friendly drink. But does tap water have to be turned into fizzy water to make it a superior choice to bottled water?

Tap Water Can Be Delicious or Deadly

Certain cities are famous for the quality of their tap water. Restaurants in New York City and Vienna, for instance, frequently serve tap water to their customers. The cities of Los Angeles and Clearbrook, British Columbia provide tap water that has won top prizes at international water tastings. And the makers of Aquafina and Dasani bottled water like their sources of tap water so well that they simply take tap water and put it in bottles for the convenience of their customers.

In the United States, some cities have seasonal problems with their water supplies. Algae feeding on  dairy cattle manure, for instance, contaminate the water in Waco, Texas during the late fall and early spring. Waco tap water can take on a distinctly barnyard flavor when cold fronts cause surface water to sink and bottom water to rise in the lake providing the city's municipal water supply. Blue-green algae associated with livestock manures are a problem during hot weather in small towns and cities in America's Plains States.

In the western United States and Australia, tap water becomes unacceptably saline during the summer. In some locations, natural fluorides so completely contaminate city well water that not only do residents not get cavities, their teeth become mottled brown with crystalline deposits dentists cannot remove.

And in much of the world, tap water simply is not safe to drink. Water may not be treated before it is pumped into the public water distribution system, or old pipes or broken pipes near sewage conduits may introduce contamination into the system. But water-borne danger is not limited to the Third World:

•    In 1993, over 400,000 people became sick, and some died, when the Milwaukee, Wisconsin municipal water supply became contaminated with an organism known as Cryptosporidium.

•    In 2002, American scientists announced that they had identified 82 pharmaceutical compounds in lakes and streams.

•    Numerous studies have found water supplies to be contaminated with estrogen-like BPA compounds.

There is also a problem with the chlorine used to kill germs in water. Some scientists theorize that chlorine in tap water may compete for receptor sites on the thyroid gland that would otherwise absorb iodine for making thyroid hormone, with diminished thyroid hormone production the result. Modern tap water is a miracle when compared to the water supplies of cities in the disease-ridden historical past, but it certainly is not without its problems.


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