In the UK we have some of the best quality tap water in the world. With the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) working hard to monitor our water to ensure it is safe and clean to drink. Whilst the water delivered through the pipe network to your home is safe to drink, there are still a number of minerals and chemicals that can be found in your water that are considered undesirable.
Depending on where you live in the UK, your water will either be considered soft or hard. A survey by Tapp Water found that the best tasting water in the country was in Scotland, Yorkshire, Belfast, Bristol and Wales – all soft water areas. Whilst the worst tasting water was found in Norwich, Leicester, Southampton, London and Birmingham – all hard water areas.
It’s not only the hardness of your water that affects its taste and smell. Drinking water almost certainly contains other minerals and chemicals that you may, or may not be aware of. Let’s dive in and find out exactly what is inside your drinking water.
Chlorine & Chloramines
Chlorine and Chloramines are chemicals added to your water by your water board. They are only added in carefully monitored doses and are important to keep your water safe and free from bacteria. These chemicals do have the potential to react with naturally occurring organic substances leading to the formation of unpleasant by-products like chloroform. Although the associated health risks are minimal, these chemicals can cause your water to have chemical taste and smell – making it less palatable.
Calcium & Magnesium Carbonate
Calcium and Magnesium Carbonate are more widely recognised as limescale or hardness. The amount of these naturally occurring minerals you have in your water determines if it is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. These minerals are safe (and beneficial) to drink, but they change the taste of your water and are the culprit for scum on the top of your cup of tea and limescale in your home. Water with lower levels of Calcium and Magnesium or ‘soft water’ is widely known to improve the taste of hot beverages like tea and coffee.
Microplastics are leached into the water supply from many sources including cosmetics, fabrics, microbeads and car tyres. A study by Cranfield University found that tap water in the UK typically contains as many as 10 microplastic pieces per litre. Unfortunately with the widespread use of plastics in manufacturing processes, this figure is expected to grow in the coming years. The health risks associated with microplastics are still unclear, however it’s not surprising that most people don’t want them in their water.
Fluoride does occur naturally, but in some areas it is added to water by the relevant water board. This is done to prevent tooth decay and cavities. Levels are stringently monitored and some fluoridation schemes being in place for over 60 years. That being said, it is a very controversial chemical and can be linked to many health conditions including dental and skeletal fluorosis. In fact, no new fluoridation schemes have been approved in over 20 years.
Lead is extremely poisonous and is absorbed into water as it passes through lead pipework. Thankfully, little to none of the pipes in the UK’s mains pipe network contain lead. However, if you live in an old house built before the 1970’s then you could have lead pipework inside your home. Interestingly if you have hard water it can form a limescale barrier inside the pipe, which could actually protect the water flowing through from contamination.
If you are on a mains water supply then your water board are required by law to ensure that your water is bacteria-free. Your water is routinely tested at regular intervals to make sure that it is safe. There are rare instances where a mains supply can be contaminated, for example by Cryptosporidium which cause outbreaks in Bristol, Lancashire and Ireland. If you have a private water supply then it is paramount to get your water tested regularly and to employ a suitable sterilization system to deal with bacteria and parasites.
Drugs & Hormones
Although very uncommon, drugs and hormones have been identified in UK tap water in extremely low concentrations. In 2013 Public Health England found low levels of caffeine, painkillers and ingredients used in epilepsy drugs in treated drinking water. The levels at which these have been found are over 100,000 times lower than therapeutic doses and are deemed unlikely to pose a health risk.
Want To Improve Your Drinking Water?
In the UK it is required by law that the water delivered to your home through the mains pipe network is fit for human consumption. This includes complying with rigorous testing, for an extensive list of chemicals and micro-organisms. We are lucky enough to be supplied with some of the best drinking water in the world, straight from our kitchen taps.
Although a water filter is not essential, lots of people want to remove some or all of the potential contaminants from their water. The use of a water filter is recommended for people who don’t like the taste of their tap water, or prefer the taste of bottled water. This not only helps to save you money, but significantly reduces your environmental impact compared to drinking bottled water.