Water Quality and Contamination

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Background 

Water is integral to life; every living organism requires water to survive. It is used not only to drink but in the production of food, shelter creation, transportation, and many other things that support life and civilization. There is a large amount of water on the surface of the Earth, so much that is has formed the topography and landscape of the world. However, only a small portion of this water is usable fresh-water. It is a renewable resource that is purified and returned back to the Earth through the hydrological cycle. Testing for water quality and contaminants is so incredibly important because of growing pollution and population. “Waterborne disease is still a major cause of death in many parts of the world, particularly in children, and it is also a significant economic constraint in many subsistence economies” (Fawell & Nieuwenhuijsen, 2003). So while water quality is a greater issue in third world countries where there is not infrastructure in place to adequately test and purify water, it is still an issue in first world countries as well, as we have seen with the recent and ongoing issues with water quality in Flint, Michigan. And while each country is responsible for creating their own regulations on water testing, purification, and access, some are unable to find sufficient clean water sources. “Experience has… shown that interventions in improving access to safe water favor the poor in particular, whether in rural or urban areas, and can be an effective part of poverty alleviation strategies” (World Health Organization [WHO], 2004). Drinking bottled water and filtered water are ways in which many people are able to avoid drinking contaminated water, but many people that are most affected by contaminated water are not able to afford bottled water. So it is necessary to look at how bottled and tap water compare in terms of quality and contaminants and determine whether bottled water is as pure a source of water as many companies claim.

Objective

The objective of this study is to determine if bottled water is truly a safer or better option than drinking tap water in an area that has filtered and purified water. If water purification systems were implemented in many of the areas of the world where water quality is a main contributor to disease and death, would bottled water still be a necessary alternative? If it were possible to use purification systems in these areas it may cut the need for bottled water completely, which in turn would cut pollution as the production of plastic bottles is an incredibly costly and detrimental practice from start to finish in terms of pollution and use of resources. My aim is to find whether tap water and bottled water align in terms of quality and contaminants.

Hypothesis 

If Tap water, Dasani Bottled water, and Fiji Bottled water are tested to determine water quality and level of contaminants present, then Fiji Bottled water will be the best and cleanest water overall because it is taken from natural sources. It will have low amounts of contaminants. Tap water will be the worst and dirtiest water as a whole because although filtration has occurred, it has still come in contact with many contaminants and thus, will contain many contaminants and the water will be of poor quality.

I have chosen to study this hypothesis because in order for bottled water to exist and be consumed to the degree that it is there must be some faults in Tap water. Bottled water companies often claim they are more pure and do not contain any contaminants as opposed to Tap water. I’d like to determine whether this is misinformation and Tap water is of the same quality as bottled water or if there is basis in the claims of these corporations.

Materials and Methods

In order to test water quality and contamination it was necessary to compare water quality from a variety of different sources. Fiji bottled water, Dasani bottled water, and Tap water were poured into beakers and tested for different contaminants. First, we used ammonia test strips to determine levels of ammonia in the liquids; this was measured in milligrams per liter. We then tested the different waters using chloride test strips; these strips measure amounts of Chloride in the water in milligrams per liter. We measured the total alkalinity, total Chloride, and total hardness in milligrams per liter using 4 in 1 test strips. The results of these measurements allowed us to calculate the pH of each liquid after we had completed the experiment. Phosphate test strips were then used to measure the phosphate levels in parts per million of each liquid. Iron test strips were then used, these strips tested iron in the water in parts per million. In order to use these strips it was necessary to mix a reducing powder into the water samples, because of this the water samples were put into separate beakers so as not to contaminate the entire samples. Each of the test strips have color charts that inform the results of the test, these strips turn different colors depending on the value of contaminant or quality. The final measurements we completed were to test pH levels in the water samples. Again, a small portion of the water samples were taken from the main testing beakers, we mixed 5 mL of Jiffy Juice with each sample of water and determined pH using a color chart. The results of each test were recorded in the table for comparison of the quality and contaminants of the different water samples.

Results

Table or image redacted in preview but included in download

Through the multitude of tests it became clear that the three samples of water, Tap water, Dasani Bottled water, and Fiji Bottled water had very similar levels of contamination and quality. Tap water and the Fiji Bottled water had the same results in the majority of the tests, in the 4 in 1 test, results outlined in Table Three, the two water samples gleaned the exact same results for each of the different values tested. For total alkalinity both samples came in around 40 mg/L, total chlorine for both samples was 1.0 mg/L, and total hardness for the two were 120 mg/L. Tap water and the Fiji Bottled water had the same pH level result of 7 pH as well, refer to Table Six. All three water samples earned the same results in the Ammonia Test (Table One) finding none, 0 mg/L and the Chloride Test results (Table Two) again finding none, 0 mg/L. The Dasani Bottled water differed from the Tap water and the Fiji Bottled water in the 4 in 1 Test (Table Three) in which results showed 0 mg/L for all three tested values; total alkalinity, total chlorine, and total hardness. Dasani Bottled water differed in pH level as well, with a pH of 5 (Table Six). Dasani Bottled water and the Fiji Bottled water returned the same results in the Iron Test, both with 0 ppm. Tap water showed results of a level of 0.15 ppm of Iron in the sample. Each water sample returned a different result for the Phosphate Test, shown in Table Four, this was the only test where this was the case. Tap water showed Phosphate levels to be 50 ppm, Dasani Bottled water showed Phosphate levels to be 10 ppm, and Fiji Bottled water showed Phosphate levels to be 100 ppm. It is clear that the test results for each water sample overlap in some areas and completely diverge in others.

Discussion

My hypothesis, “If Tap water, Dasani Bottled water, and Fiji Bottled water are tested to determine water quality and level of contaminants present, then Fiji Bottled water will be the best and cleanest water overall because it is taken from natural sources. It will have low amounts of contaminants. Tap water will be the worst and dirtiest water as a whole because although filtration has occurred, it has still come in contact with many contaminants and thus, will contain many contaminants and the water will be of poor quality”, was denied. This is clear when looking at the results for the different tests that were performed on the different samples of water. Tap water and the Fiji Bottled water were very close on a number of the tests. The results point to Dasani Bottled water as the cleanest and most contaminant free of the three sampled waters, as both Tap water and Fiji Bottled water contained higher levels of Chlorine, Alkaline, hardness, and Phosphates. However, Dasani Bottled water was a bit more acidic than the other two with a pH of 5. Tap water and Fiji Bottled water both had a pH of 7. None of the differences between the three water samples are great enough for concern; additionally, none of the levels of tested quality and contaminant levels in all three samples are cause for concern.

When looking at the results of this experiment it becomes apparent that bottled water is really just glorified Tap water. I think it is problematic that many corporations are presenting their products as the cleanest water one can drink, thus implying that Tap water is dirty and dangerous. I do not think it is worth it to buy bottled water, unless there are major contaminant and quality issues with available Tap water. The bottled water industry has done more to pollute and destroy the Earth than to keep people healthy and drinking clean water. If this industry did not exist it is very likely that water pollution would exist to a lesser degree.

It would be important in further studies of this issue to test a greater variety of water sources, potentially even looking at unfiltered sources as well in order to compare contaminant and quality levels. It would also be worthwhile to test water samples over a greater period of time, filtration systems and methods can change and it is important to look at that as well, maybe over the course of a couple of weeks. In the future I think it would also be useful to perform tests for a larger group of contaminants, ones that are more harmful to humans such as lead, nitrates, sulfates, etc. It would be interesting to look at calcium and fluoride levels as well, this larger variety of tests would allow us to gain a greater understanding of the quality of different water sources.

Conclusions

This paper will look at the importance of water quality and contaminant testing and whether bottled water is truly a safer or better option than drinking tap water in an area that has filtered and purified water. If it were possible to use purification systems in underserved areas it may cut the need for bottled water completely. The paper will work to connect this idea with the results of the study and attempt to show that bottled water is no better than properly treated Tap water. It will show that it is more costly, both financially and environmentally than it is worth, and that installing water purification systems and methodologies in areas without reliable clean water is more sustainable in the long run.

References

CDC. (2009, April 10). Drinking Water Regulations. Retrieved December 5, 2016, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/regulations.html

Fawell, J., & Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J. (2003). Contaminants in Drinking Water. British Medical Bulletin, 68(1), 199–208. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldg027

Kumar, M., & Puri, A. (2012). A Review of Permissible Limits of Drinking Water. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 16(1), 40–44. doi:10.4103/0019-5278.99696

World Health Organization (2004). Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality: Volume 1: Recommendations (3rd ed.). Geneva: World Health Organization.