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New tests beg the question: why are we buying bottled water?

Stephanie Bedo, July 25, 2018 7:00PM news.com.au

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Clean drinking water. media_cameraClean drinking water.

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Bottled water could be as damaging to your teeth as Coke and coffee, according to research at an Australian university.

Some bottled water also contains fluoride* — one reason some people avoid tap water — and some tap water has more minerals* than bottled “mineral water”.

And one company that’s been put to the test — Nature’s Best — was found to be really not that different to tap water at all.

In season two of ABC’s War on Waste, popular water brands were tested and compared to regular tap water from the Gold Coast, Queensland, in one of Griffith University’s testing laboratories*.

ABC's War on Waste tested water at Griffith University, comparing bottled and tap water. Picture: supplied media_cameraABC’s War on Waste tested water at Griffith University, comparing bottled and tap water. Picture: supplied

Australian tap water is tested by government water authorities and there are rules to make sure it’s safe to drink. Bottled water is classed as a food product and not subject to the same controls, which means quality and mineral content can vary depending on the brand.

Testing at Griffith University showed tap water has a relatively* high concentration of minerals such as calcium* and magnesium*, more than most of the bottled brands, except Fiji water.

ABC's War on Waste tested water for calcium and magnesium content. Many people buy water sold as 'mineral water' believing it has more minerals in it than tap water, but the tests showed tap water can have higher mineral content than some bottled water. Picture: supplied media_cameraABC’s War on Waste tested water for calcium and magnesium content. Many people buy water sold as ‘mineral water’ believing it has more minerals in it than tap water, but the tests showed tap water can have higher mineral content than some bottled water. Picture: supplied

Water scientist Dr Fred Leusch also looked at the pH* levels, which is a measure of acidity, with a seven being neutral*. The lower the number the more acidic the water, with any number below seven being acidic. Acidic drinks and foods can be damaging to tooth enamel*.

The tests revealed Pump and Mount Franklin were more acidic and wouldn’t pass tap-water tests, with Mount Franklin’s sparkling brand the worst in that category.

“Below four is something that does damage your enamel,” Dr Leusch said.

“We’re in the range of Coke and coffee — we know these are not great for our teeth.

“Tap water should really be marketed as mineral water.”

ABC's War on Waste tested water for acidity. pH of 7 is neutral, anything lower than 7 is acidic. The lower the number, the more acidic. Picture: supplied media_cameraABC’s War on Waste tested water for acidity. pH of 7 is neutral, anything lower than 7 is acidic. The lower the number, the more acidic. Picture: supplied

Last night’s War on Waste program showed how Nature’s Best could confuse people because it is simply branded as “pure, safe, Australian water” on the label.

The Sydney-based company does just put treated tap water in a bottle, with its owner previously revealing he just sees his business as “selling plastic bottles” because the “water is basically free”.

Dr Leusch said anything that said “safe, pure Australian water” was probably just tap water.

“I find the name ironic* — Nature’s Best, pure, safe Australian — it’s an acknowledgment* that tap water’s safe,” he said.

“In the end, I reckon when you’re buying this, most of the cost is the plastic container. What’s inside is just worth 0.1 of a cent.”

Gold Coast tap water had a level of fluoride that was expected, but all bottles contained some amount of it, and Nature’s Best had more.

“It’s a natural element*, it’s found in some of our groundwaters* as well,” Dr Leusch said.

“It’s a chemical found in rocks and so if that groundwater has been in contact with fluoride containing rocks, it will have naturally higher concentrations of fluoride.”

ABC's War on Waste tested water for fluoride levels. Fluoride is a natural substance in water. Extra fluoride is added to most tap water to help prevent tooth decay. Picture: supplied media_cameraABC’s War on Waste tested water for fluoride levels. Fluoride is a natural substance in water. Extra fluoride is added to most tap water to help prevent tooth decay. Picture: supplied

Dr Leusch said it was easy for people to get confused with all the types on the market and the “gimmicks*” being used.

“All our water is eventually from the same place, it’s a closed cycle,” he said.

“The water that fills our rivers is actually sometimes fed from the ground, sometimes fed from rainwater — it’s all the same water in the end.

“Because they’re regulated* as food the words can have a very specific meaning — spring water must really mean it’s sourced from groundwater. Pure water is more generic* than that and it can actually be tap water that has been filtered and bottled into this.”

EXTRA READING

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MORE TO KNOW

  • If you live in a city or town, the water that comes from your taps is probably from a public water supply that travels in pipes from big dams that store water out of the ground, from rivers or from rain that runs into the dams.
  • The government organisations that look after our water supplies filter and treat water before it gets to your tap. Ultraviolet light* and chlorine are two ways water is treated to kill germs such as bacteria and algae that could make you sick. The amount of chlorine is much less than used to keep a swimming pool clean.
  • Fluoride is added to most public water supplies to help prevent tooth decay.
  • Chlorine and fluoride can make water slightly acidic, so lime*, caustic soda* or soda ash* are usually added to make the water neutral, rather than acidic.
  • Water authorities provide information about your area’s water supply on their websites.

Source: melbournewater.com.au

GLOSSARY

fluoride: a mineral either naturally in or added to water to help prevent tooth decay

minerals: a natural substance found on Earth that is not a plant or an animal

laboratories: science testing offices

relatively: when compared to other things

calcium: a mineral that humans need in small amounts

magnesium: a mineral that humans need in small amounts

pH: the name of the scale to measure acidity, where 7 is neutral and below 7 is acidic

neutral: neither acidic nor alkaline

enamel: the hard protective coating on teeth

ironic: unexpected or the opposite to the expected and so a little bit funny

acknowledgment: admitting something is true

element: a basic, simple substance found in nature. Oxygen and calcium are examples

groundwaters: the water naturally stored under the ground

gimmicks: a trick to attract attention

regulated: controlled by rules

generic: not branded

ultraviolet light: a type of light that is in sunlight

lime: a natural mix of minerals that is alkaline, or the opposite of an acid, to neutralise acids

caustic soda: an alkaline substance used to neutralise acids; used to make soap

soda ash: an alkaline substance used to neutralise acids

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. Which university tested the water?

2. Why is bottled water not subject to the same rules as tap water?

3. What does the pH level measure?

4. Acidic drinks such as coffee and Coke can damage which part of your teeth?

5. What makes up most of the cost of some bottled water, according to Dr Leusch?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Pros and Cons

What are the benefits and disadvantages of drinking tap water and bottled water? Create two list of benefits and disadvantages, one for tap water and one for bottled water. Use information in the story for your lists. Then think of other points of your own to add to the lists.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum Links: Science

2. Extension: As you have read in the story, advertising is used to make people think that bottled water is better for us than tap water. This encourages people to buy something (bottled water) that they already have (tap water). Air is something that we don’t need to buy, but how you would you encourage people to buy bottled air? Design and create an advertisement for bottled air. Your advertisement can be a magazine ad, a poster, a jingle or a script for a TV or radio ad. Make your ad as convincing as possible!

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum Links: Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

QUESTION: What can you, your family, school and community do to make sure everyone drinks enough without buying bottled water?
Explain your ideas using full sentences.

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