Not all water tests are created equal

18th June 2004 at 01:00
It is important that a number of errors in the otherwise excellent article "Water in schools" (Friday magazine, TES, May 21)are corrected to avoid misleading readers on this important subject.

In the bulletpoints it was claimed that "mineral waters are tested for less than 25 per cent of the substances for which tap water must be tested".

This is both inaccurate and misleading.

Natural mineral water (which constitutes 75 per cent of all UK bottled water consumption) is covered by separate, specially formulated European Union and UK legislation, recognising the special "naturally protected origins" of such waters and ensuring that they are micro-biologically safe to drink at source.

Tap water legislation recognises that it is sourced from ground-water boreholes, surface water plus substantial volumes of recycled waste water.

It therefore has to be cleansed, treated and disinfected before it is safe to consume.

In practice, "natural mineral waters" and "spring waters" are also subjected to the bottled drinking water tests to comply with the general requirements of the regulations, as well as the Food Safety Acts, which applied to all bottled waters in the UK.

The truth is that both types of water are properly tested against any risk to health.

However, your readers will appreciate that tap and natural mineral water are significantly different products. Tap water must be disinfected in order to protect the product from possible infection via fractures in the delivery pipework.

It should not contain micro-organisms at the point of delivery, while natural mineral water will contain benign micro-organisms because it must not be disinfected.

The authors of reports, such as the Chester public health laboratory study quoted in your article, are often unaware of these differences and draw the wrong inferences: in this case, that tap water is an inherently safer product than natural mineral water.

In fact both are safe to consume, but they rely on different regimes to achieve product safety.

However, the critical question (not addressed in the article) for all consumers, particularly parents and those in loco parentis, is do they want their children to drink safe, disinfected water or water that is safe to drink in its natural state?

Recent research conducted in the UK indicated that 80 per cent of UK adults wanted their food and beverages to be "natural", and the rise in popularity of organic foods shows that consumers are increasingly willing to pay to avoid additives in their food and drink.

We totally endorse the main thrust of your article stressing the benefits of hydration for children in school and in the home.

There can be no argument about the benefits of hydration, and it is important that all sides of the water industry and teaching professionals pull together to communicate this message.

Ian Hall

Chairman

Natural Mineral Waters Association

PO Box 368

Hayes

Middlesex

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