What’s Best for Kids: Bottled Water or Fountains?

Tap water may be better for kids than sugary sodas, but many schools have lead-contaminated water (file photo). This story is part of a special series that explores the global water crisis. For more clean water news, photos, and information, visit National Geographic’s Freshwater Web site.

As the U.S. taste for bottled water grows, environmentalists have been trying to sell people on good old-fashioned—and free—tap water. But tap water’s place in schools is thorny, since some experts say children should actually be drinking more bottled water to head off two stubborn health threats: obesity due to sugary drinks and lead poisoning.

"If children go from sugary beverages to bottled water, you get a benefit to public health, but not so much the environment," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

"If they go from sugar beverages to [clean] tap water, you get a public health home run and environmental home run."

Bottled water is a drain on the environment: The U.S. public goes through about 50 billion water bottles a year, and most of those plastic containers are not recycled, according to Elizabeth Royte’s 2008 book Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. Transporting the bottles and keeping them cold also burns fossil fuels, which give off greenhouse gases.

Groundwater pumping by bottled-water companies also draws heavily on underground aquifers and harms watersheds, according to the environmental nonprofit the Sierra Club. And a 2008 investigation by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found some bottled water is sullied with untested industrial chemicals, and may not necessarily be cleaner than tap water.

Lead Dangers

But switching to tap water could be a bad idea in some schools where the risk of lead contamination from old pipes — known to affect physical and mental development — is high, particularly in large urban areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

For instance in September 2009, the […]

About bottled water vs. drinking fountains:

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What's Best for Kids: Bottled Water or Fountains?
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What's Best for Kids: Bottled Water or Fountains?
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Switching kids to tap water could be a bad idea if the risk of lead contamination from old pipes, known to affect physical and mental development, is high.
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National Geographic
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