Which Water to Drink? Costs and Benefits of Alternatives

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Monday, March 19, 2018
Edwin Brands
R Rajagopal
Journal Title: 
SciFed Journal of Public Health

Public water systems’ infrequent violations of United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) heath-based water quality standards are highly publicized (and often magnified) by mass media, although waterborne disease outbreaks and deaths have been significantly reduced since the advent of modern public drinking water systems in the U.S. A small number of water systems (e.g. Flint, Michigan) had serious water quality problems in recent years, but all consumers are presented with many alternative products by rapidly growing bottled water and home filtration device industries. We illustrate the problem of consumer decisions regarding drinking water alternatives, in the context of water quality, health, and cost information by investigating and reporting on differences in selected water quality parameters and economics of drinking water alternatives, including public water systems, private wells, bottled water, and home filtration devices. In our historical snapshot dataset, samples were taken from these sources in an Eastern Iowa study area during two different seasons and analyzed for contaminants typically found in highly agricultural areas. In addition to the snapshot data, we also examined the most recent available longitudinal data on study area public water systems and wells. Although there were differences in the numbers and concentrations of contaminants detected, no selected contaminants exceeded US EPA drinking water maximum contaminant levels in any of the drinking water categories. Based on our analysis, public water systems appear to be the most prudent choice for drinking water and therefore deserving of continued investment in associated infrastructure. Water filtration devices are the next best choice, with bottled water by far the most expensive, 280-6,300 times that of public water systems in the study area, without providing additional protection in the context of US drinking water regulations.


Edwin Brands and Rajagopal R (2018) Which Water to Drink? Costs and Benefits of Alternatives. SF J Pub Health 2:1.