Pure bunk: No U.S. water is pristine, but 43% still drink from the tap

April 5, 2018

Ever since the American public learned about the crisis in Flint, Michigan, in 2016—when the city’s pipelines were found to be leaching dangerous levels of lead and other toxins into municipal supplies of drinking water—there has been nationwide concern about the quality of water coming out of our faucets, spigots, and drinking fountains.

As a safety measure, many Americans have switched to bottled water—but now, a study conducted by researchers from the State University of New York at Fredonia has revealed that fully 93% of bottled water tested showed some sign of microplastic contamination.

The researchers, from the school’s Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences, tested 259 individual bottles from 27 lots across 11 brands that had been purchased from 19 locations in nine countries.

The data suggest that the contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and the bottling processes, themselves. Including smaller particles, the researchers found an average of 325 microplastic particles per liter.

In light of this, the pollsters at Civic Science wondered how the public now perceives drinking water. Could these scientific developments impact consumers in a big way? Is bottled water even a priority in 2018?

To start with, they asked U.S. adults which water sources they think are the most trustworthy. Among 1,979 respondents, 33% said they trust purified water—water that has gone through a process to remove chemicals and contaminants—the most.

Coming in at a close second in the poll—released on April 4—was tap water, with 29% of U.S. adults indicating this is the source in which they have the most confidence. Clearly, the public still feels strongly that tap water is a safe and reliable choice.

Spring water—which comes from an underground source and may or may not be purified—came in third, with 18% of U.S. adults indicating this as the source they trusted most. Since most of the bottled water we drink is considered spring water, this data could cause us to infer that, in general, bottled water favorability already is far below that of tap and purified water.

That said, the water that Americans trust and the sources we actually use are not always the same. Therefore, the Civic Science team took another approach, asking what kind of water individuals usually drink.

In answer to that question, tap water jumped ahead, with 43% of U.S. adults indicating that this is the kind of water they drink on a regular basis. Just 29% of responders regularly drink purified water—a slight decrease from the 33% who said they trusted it most—while 15% swear by spring water (another slight drop).

But exactly whom is drinking bottled water? Although U.S. adults who make under $50,000 a year are the largest group drinking tap water, the data shows that individuals of every income level turn to their sinks when they need to quench their thirst, proving that this source transcends not just generational, but also socio-economic boundaries.

But what happens when we take a look at living location? Could where you live be a factor in what kind of water you choose to consume?

While it may come as no surprise that 52% of U.S.adults who turn to tap water live in the suburbs, 25% of city dwellers also end up filling their cups from the faucet. This is a larger percentage than the 21% of US adults in rural areas who do the same.

Clearly, even in a world where the possibility of lead and other toxins in city water is a very real threat, confidence in tap remains strong.

The pollsters came to the following conclusion: Companies  that now are bottling water might want to consider investing more time and resources into making purification systems that consumers can purchase, capitalizing on the fact that purified water is the most trusted—but not the most widely used—water source.

Research contact: laurnie@civicscience.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *