A Facebook post with 173,000 likes and 118,000 shares makes a number of claims about the safety and health effects of tap water. The post was written by Nitro Luke DX, a British gaming video creator with over a million Youtube subscribers, and almost 800,000 followers on Facebook.
The post, which includes an image of a pipe with brown build-up, says tap water is “the most underrated cause of disease” and describes it as “loaded with heavy metals, pesticides, fluoride [and] chlorine”. It goes on to say: “Make sure to only drink spring water. Spring water = living water.”
In fact, all the substances listed are regulated to safe levels in UK tap water.
We have written before about health claims by people with large social media followings, as well as claims about the safety of tap water.
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Tap vs spring
British tap water supplies are some of the best-rated in the world, according to a Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) report published in July 2023, with an “absence of any disease associated with drinking water infrastructure”. For example, overall compliance with standards for English public water supplies is at 99.97%.
‘Spring water’ usually refers to bottled water from an underground source free of pollution and disease. Tap water often comes from the same sources.
Some homes have private water supplies that may come from natural springs. For simplicity, we refer to ‘tap water’ as publicly supplied water to homes, but some homes will have water from their taps that comes from springs or other sources.
Spring water that is being produced for sale can also contain small quantities of heavy metals and pesticides, with safety limits regulated by local authorities.
Local authorities (not the DWI) have the responsibility for risk assessing private water supplies and monitoring their quality. A 2022 DWI report on private water supplies found almost 1 in 30 contained potentially dangerous levels of bacteria that may come from faecal contamination. As we mentioned, private water comes from several sources, not just spring water, so it’s unclear what the rate for spring-fed private water alone would have been.
Tap water in the UK can have issues with sediment from older pipes, which should be apparent by changes to colour, smell or taste. Water suppliers can be contacted should this occur in order to deal with any issues, with customers advised not to drink discoloured water.
The DWI reports that buildup can occur in water pipes due to older pipes and historical processing methods, but that maintenance, refurbishment and replacement are ongoing.
This doesn’t mean that tap water is generally unsafe to drink, but the DWI says: “If your tap water is suddenly discoloured, you should not assume that it is safe to drink until you have sought advice from your water supplier.”
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can help prevent tooth decay. It is present in commercial toothpastes and can be added to water supplies for this purpose. It is a common subject of false claims.
Tap water in the UK is not all fluoridated. Some areas in England have fluoride added to the water but Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales do not.
Tap water and some bottled water will contain small amounts of fluoride even if it is not added, as it is a naturally occurring mineral.
Chlorine is used as a water disinfectant. It is safe within the regulated limits for tap water and is a proven public health measure.
Heavy metals can be toxic for humans in large enough doses. They occur naturally, but in recent years steps have been taken to reduce exposure by removing heavy metals like lead from products such as petrol and paint.
The DWI says that “lead is not present in the water within our wider public water supply network”, but tap water can be contaminated by pipes inside the home. The installation of lead water pipes was made illegal in the UK in 1969, but older houses may still have them in place. Brass fittings can also leak lead and illegal use of lead solder for water pipes does occur.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to disease in humans, but it is not clear what the effects of normal exposure are, if there are any. Pesticide use can cause pollution that contaminates the environment, including sources of water.
Compliance with the safety limits for these substances set by the government and enforced by the DWI is close to 100% for public water suppliers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has similar compliance levels for the parameters set by the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland. Some campaign groups have argued that the DWI may underestimate the presence of lead in tap water.
What about the image?
The post includes an image of a pipe with brown buildup, and the caption says: “This is what a tap water pipe looks like that brings water to your house.”
However, this is not an image of a pipe in the UK.
The original source appears to be a 2017 Facebook post by the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority in Bangkok, Thailand. The image has been used widely on social media before, for example in posts that wrongly claimed it came from Sri Lanka or Africa.
We have contacted Nitro Luke DX but have not received a response at the time of writing.
Featured image courtesy of Kaboompics.com