Ohelo | Environmental
Is tap water in London safe to drink?
A big part of avoiding the single use plastic water bottle is to be able to confidently refill your trusty reusable bottle straight from the tap. So how safe is London’s drinking water?
As Londoners, we can be quietly smug, as London’s tap water ranks as some of the best in the world. Woohoo! In fact, the UK was one of only 6 nations with a top score in the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (Yale). In other words, there was no disease associated with the UKs drinking water, showing that our tap water is safe to drink.
Londons water is safe to drink, some of the safest in the whole world, but is there more to the story?
Where does London tap water come from, and does it have any hidden nasties to consider?
70% of London’s tap water comes from reservoirs upstream of the Thames River. Thames Water is the biggest water provider in London, responsible for around 76% of the capitals water supply. It has around 320 water reservoirs, which hold treated water before it is distributed to our homes.
Tap water quality is strictly controlled by law, specifically The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations. This regulates everything from chemical content to frequency of water testing. Our water supply is also monitored by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) who ensure that it stays safe to drink.
The problem with Lead pipes
As the UK’s only lead free insulated bottle brand we are no stranger to talking about the dangers of lead to human health. Lead is toxic to both people and planet. In adults lead exposure can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart problems and kidney damage. It can also lead to a range of fertility problems.
Lead was commonly used to make pipes for water supplies historically. However, the use of lead pipes for water supplies was banned in the UK in 1969. Properties built after 1970 will be free from lead pipes due to the lead pipe ban. For older properties there is still the possibility of old stock lead pipes connecting to the main supply (water mains pipes are not made from lead).
According to the World Health Organisation there is no safe exposure level to lead.
Hard water areas can give a little natural protection against old lead pipes, as limescale present in the water can coat the pipes and stop the lead reaching the water supply. You can also reduce lead particulates in water coming through old lead pipes by running the water through for a couple of minutes before drinking, as this ensures any water that has been sat stationary in the pipes is flushed through. If you do have old lead pipes connecting your home to the mains, the best way to eliminate the lead from your drinking water would be to replace the old lead pipes – there are many different lead pipe replacement schemes available, so check with your water supplier to see what is available.
Ways that tap water is safer than bottled water
1. Added disinfectants protect you from bacteria.
Tap water has disinfectants added to it to protect against bacterial infection. Bottled water does not have these additives, so once it is opened it can be contaminated by bacteria on your hands or face.
2. Less microplastics than bottled water
Microplastics are being found everywhere, from the remote Arctic ice shelf to the air we breathe and the water that we drink. The root cause of microplastics is our over-use of plastic combined with the persistence of the material itself – it takes hundreds of years to decompose and even then, leaves behind microplastic particles.
So yes, microplastics may be found in your London tap water. But the concentrations of microplastics in tap water are significantly lower than those found in water from single use PET bottles. Some studies suggest that on average, bottled water contains around 60 times the number of microplastics than tap water. Other studies also show that microplastics are produced every time you open a single use plastic bottle by the friction between the bottle and the bottle cap. Finally, recent research in the UK has shown that 99.9% of all microplastics present in UK water supplies are removed from drinking water by the current treatment processes.
3. Harmful hormone-mimicking compounds in bottled water.
Scientific studies have indicated that water samples from PET bottles contain oestrogen mimicking compounds at a higher level than water samples taken from glass equivalents.
4. More regular quality control testing.
In the UK tap water supplies are tested every single day. Bottled water by comparison is checked monthly. This again makes tap water the safer option.
What about forever chemicals?
A new area of interest is in PFAs and forever chemicals. PFAs (per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances) consist of more than 5000 chemicals that are known as forever chemicals as they are resistant to biodegradation. Research is new and ongoing on these chemicals – which is a good thing given they hang around and we don’t understand their long-term toxicity yet. Currently the WHO does not have base guidelines for PFAs in water supplies, and there are no regulations around PFAs in drinking water in the UK. However, the DWI has put together guidance for UK water supplies which aligns with EU standards currently being worked on.
Want to check out the quality of the tap water where you are based in London?
Thames water allow you to download the water quality report for your local area, with everything from chemical content to colour and odour records.
Is it all about the taste?
London is a hard water area, but what does this mean? The water has run through chalky ground, picking up calcium and magnesium minerals on its way. It is this concentration of minerals that makes the water “hard”. Some people love the taste, others are not so keen.
Don’t like the taste of tap water? Buy yourself a water filter for home use. This will remove impurities and additional minerals giving you water that will leave a better taste in your mouth.
How easy is it to stay hydrated in London?
With more than 100 water fountains around London it is getting easier to refill on the go and avoid those single-use options. You can also always ask coffee shops / bars/ restaurants to refill your water bottle for you – personally we have found people are always happy to refill them for you!
Tap water in London is safe to drink, is better for the planet and is significantly cheaper than bottled water. A reusable water bottle is the perfect way to stay hydrated on the move in London. As Ohelo bottles are dishwasher safe, leakproof and lead free, they are the perfect choice for exploring London town and further afield.
Feel confident to choose tap water in London. Its cheaper. Its safer. Its more environmentally friendly. Better for you and the planet!
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