These are not small numbers, in a recent peer-reviewed scientific study:
“The scenario where the entire population consumed tap water yielded the lowest environmental impact on ecosystems and resources, while the scenario where the entire population drank bottled water yielded the highest impacts (1400 and 3500 times higher for species lost and resource use, respectively).”
DALY is disability-adjusted life years.
For resource use, so far as I know Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, does sit on karst limestone, unlike Florida and south Georgia. So the resource effects of bottled water withdrawals from the Floridan Aquifer on our rivers, springs, and wells are probably worse than this study shows. Those lowered water levels in turn affect ecosystems and human health.
Filtered tap water is just as good for human health as bottled water, with far less external effects. Plus filtered tap water does not expose humans to plastics from bottles.
It is astonishing that nobody did this before: “Novel approach integrating health impact and life cycle assessment.”
The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) should be much better stewards of our waters, health, and ecology by refusing water bottling permits. The study phrases everything in terms of personal choices, but it’s not that simple. Governments are supposed to represent the people, and they need to get on with it.
Bring back bottle deposits, like half a dozen U.S. states and many countries already have. While we’re at it, ban styrofoam containers, like Maryland and Colorado already have. Then we’ll see some real changes in health, ecology, and less trash to clean up from our creeks, rivers, and springs.
This is the study: Health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices in Barcelona, Spain: A modelling study, Cristina M. Villanueva, Marianna Garfí, Carles Milà, Sergio Olmos, Ivet Ferrer, Cathryn Tonne, Science of the Total Environment 795 (2021) 148884. Available online 5 July 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148884
Quantitative evidence of health and environmental tradeoffs between individuals’ drinking water choices is needed to inform decision-making. We evaluated health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices using health impact and life cycle assessment (HIA, LCA) methodologies applied to data from Barcelona, Spain. We estimated the health and environmental impacts of four drinking water scenarios for the Barcelona population: 1) currently observed drinking water sources; a complete shift to 2) tap water; 3) bottled water; or 4) filtered tap water. We estimated the local bladder cancer incidence attributable to trihalomethane (THM) exposure, based on survey data on drinking water sources, THM levels, published exposure-response functions, and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) from the Global Burden of Disease 2017. We estimated the environmental impacts (species lost/year, and resources use) from waste generation and disposal, use of electricity, chemicals, and plastic to produce tap or bottled drinking water using LCA. The scenario where the entire population consumed tap water yielded the lowest environmental impact on ecosystems and resources, while the scenario where the entire population drank bottled water yielded the highest impacts (1400 and 3500 times higher for species lost and resource use, respectively). Meeting drinking water needs using bottled or filtered tap water led to the lowest bladder cancer DALYs (respectively, 140 and 9 times lower than using tap water) in the Barcelona population. Our study provides the first attempt to integrate HIA and LCA to compare health and environmental impacts of individual water consumption choices. Our results suggest that the sustainability gain from consuming water from public supply relative to bottled water may exceed the reduced risk of bladder cancer due to THM exposure from consuming bottled water in Barcelona. Our analysis highlights several critical data gaps and methodological challenges in quantifying integrated health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices.
Thanks to WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter for discovering this paper.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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