Still on the bottle

Wilson’s world

David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk and associate editor of The Engineer

The tap water where I live tastes horrid. While it might be good for washing clothes and watering the garden, drinking it is not an option — at least not one that I would consider. So each time I visit the local Stop and Save, I pick up one or two large plastic containers containing five litres of spring water from Scotland.

I realise, of course, that purchasing bottled water from a store is possibly one of the most environmentally unfriendly things that any consumer could do. Aside from the energy required to manufacture the containers themselves, there’s the added cost of bottling and transporting the water all the way from Scotland to my local store. Not to mention the cost of recycling the plastic once the water has been consumed.

Despite these facts, drinking bottled water is a habit that I don’t intend to give up anytime soon. After all, the knowledge that my water naturally filtered through the volcanic aquifers makes me feel a darned sight happier than if I were poisoning myself by drinking tap water from the mains water supply, which may be contaminated with all manner of unnatural chemicals.

Now some of you might think that my attitude towards tap water is a little theatrical. After all, it would be quite mind-boggling if the UK government simply stood and watched millions of people drink a product that it knew contained chemicals with unknown side effects. Or would it?

It’s a question that certainly crossed my mind last month when I read that researchers at Brunel University had discovered that some UK tap water contains levels of chemicals used as silver polishing agents in dishwasher powders that are 10 times higher than those recommended in Australia’s guidelines for water reuse.

To reach that conclusion, they took water and effluent samples from the River Erewash near Nottingham and from the River Colne near Uxbridge, West London, which all contained the chemicals benzotriazole and tolytriazole. Tap water samples were then also taken and the chemicals were detected in all 80 samples analysed.

Revealing the results of the findings, lead researcher Dr Mark Scrimshaw from Brunel said that although the presence of chemicals in the environment and drinking water does not in itself ‘pose a threat to public health and the environment’, there is ‘some concern’ that the possible effects of long-term exposure to individual chemicals or mixtures of chemicals are ‘not fully understood’.

Needless to say, while I may have felt a little environmentally irresponsible for drinking expensive bottled water before I read this report, after doing so I no longer feel quite so guilty each time I pour myself a wee drop or two from the portable plastic highland spring.

After all, while I might well be wasting many of the Earth’s valuable resources to indulge in drinking a product that could be obtained just as easily by turning on my cold water tap, at least I feel reassured that it doesn’t contain aromatics commonly used as corrosion inhibitors whose possible chronic effects on the human body seem far from well known.

Bottoms up.

David Wilson

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