Let’s take a closer look at where drinking water comes from and its impact on our health. The topic is complicated, but we have provided the basics along with links to other informational resources.
- Air and water are absolutely essential for our survival. As is commonly reported, we can live for up to 3 weeks without food, but we cannot survive more than 3 days without water. Almost one fifth of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) live in areas where water is physically scarce and access is limited.
- For those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to drinking water, in many cases the purity of that water has become severely compromised.
Where has your water been?
You may be thinking, “Well, those stats don’t apply to me; I only drink bottled water.” Or, “I drink filtered tap water at work.” Unfortunately, even those methods of obtaining water can be flawed.
Here is a brief look at the most common drinking water sources, through a revealing lens.
Containers delivered by truck
Let's explore the average lifecycle of water that is dispensed from a 5-gallon bottle:
- The water arrives at the bottling plant, and while we would all like to assume it comes from a protected spring, much of the water is simply pumped in from municipal sources.
- As the bottles are filled, trace amounts of chemicals are added in as preservatives and to enhance taste such as Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts) and Potassium Chloride (which is also used in making fertilizers). While these chemicals have been approved as safe for human consumption, no multigenerational studies on possible health risks have been completed.
- Another source of potential health risk is the plastic bottle itself. In the last few years, studies have demonstrated that chemicals added to the plastic, such as BPA and other phthalates, can be endocrine disrupters and may result in birth defects. This process does not happen instantaneously; however, during the timespan that filled bottles are warehoused and transported to intermediaries and then to consumers, the inner plastic lining perpetually leaches these chemicals into the water, which is then ingested by the consumer.
- Once the refilled bottles are delivered to the home or office, airborne particles (including hair, dust, and dead skin) start to accumulate on the exterior of the plastic bottle. Far too often, these contaminants remain present on the bottle neck as the bottle is being hoisted into the exposed water tank, thereby allowing them to enter the water and creating an extremely hospitable environment for bacteria and pathogen growth.
- It’s a very popular system—but its drawbacks pose health risks.
Individual plastic bottles
Despite the convenience and ubiquity of single-serve plastic bottles in our society, a greater focus needs to be directed toward the quality of water that we are drinking out of those plastic bottles. To develop a better understanding, we investigated the current issues:
- First, we examined what’s in the water that enters the bottling plant. Like the sources for 5-gallon plastic bottles, water used for single-serve bottles does not always come from “natural springs.” According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 18% of the 173 bottled water companies surveyed refused to supply the study with information on where the water comes from. Bottled water companies are not required under law to disclose their specific source or what contaminants may be in that water.
- Second, we examined what gets into our water from the moment the water enters the bottle to the moment we screw off the cap and drink. The potential health risks of plastic additives, such as BPA, have been widely documented in recent years. We now know water should not be exposed to sustained elevated temperatures because it increases the likelihood that these additives will break down and leach into our water. Nonetheless, even today many bottling companies ship from overseas. The water bottles then sit in the sun in a freight yard, or spend weeks in a metal shipping container, exposed to both extreme cold and heat. When we twist off the cap, we are unknowingly ingesting chemicals that can lead to terminal illnesses and birth defects.
- More and more people are concluding the most intelligent response to all of this data is to avoid plastic food and water containers altogether.
- One important note: The immense popularity coupled with the surprisingly low recycling statistics of disposable plastic water bottles has created a global ecological catastrophe. We discuss it in the Our Environment section of this website.
Filtered tap water at your work or home
- Another common means of getting drinking water is through carbon filtration either before or after dispensing from the tap. These systems run water through a porous filter, typically made of carbon or charcoal, to trap particles while allowing water to pass through.
- These systems can reduce particles—such as sand, small rocks, rust, and lead from old city pipes. But they typically cannot remove any smaller chemicals that have dissolved in the water. So unless you have confirmed the purity of the water coming into your building, this type of system may be fraught with contamination. The state of our public works infrastructure has slowly declined over the past several decades due to neglect. Without replacements, pipes corrode over time causing water escapement and rust exposure.
- In addition, these filters require frequent maintenance. This could involve changing expired filters or disinfecting the container. Failure to properly maintain a filter will reduce its effectiveness and, in some cases, may affect the quality.
Unfiltered tap water
- What if your office brings in city water and DOESN’T filter it? As discussed in #3 above, municipal plumbing can contain particles such as sand, small rocks, rust and lead, not to mention chemicals or other contaminants. Chemical runoff from sewage, pharmaceutical dumping, agricultural practices or petroleum exploration seeps into groundwater and contaminates our hydrological ecosystem. Drinking this unfiltered water may not be safe.
How Skywell is Different
The Skywell represents an entirely new way of acquiring drinking water. Skywell water doesn’t come from groundwater, plastic bottles, or your city’s lead pipes. It comes from the air.
Another fundamental difference is the Skywell’s filtration system, which employs several types of filters, working in concert to maintain purity (To learn more about the Skywell, see our How it Works section.)
Who’s responsible for our water?
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are responsible for the safety of our drinking water. The FDA regulates bottled water, while the EPA regulates public drinking water (tap water). The FDA sets standards for bottled water based on the EPA’s standards.
Resources for further discovery
We urge you to do your own research. As a starting point, here are several sources:
- FDA.gov statement of position on bottled water
- EPA section on drinking water
- Water.org – global water issues
- New York Times / Greenwire article on bottled/tap water regulations
- How Stuff Works: How bottled water works
- EPA article on bottled water
- Johns Hopkins Q&A on BPA
- Johns Hopkins article on food processing and BPA
- Prevention.com article on urban myths, plastic water bottles
1 Schecter A, Malik N, Haffner D, et al. Bisphenol A (BPA) in U.S. food. Environmental science & technology. 2010;44(24):9425-30.
2 Environmental Working Group