UAE campaign encourages switch from bottled to tap water
ABU DHABI // Pouya Parsafar was already questioning his company’s use of bottled water when he came across an awareness campaign that promoted switching to tap water.
He seized the opportunity and for five months, his IT company, Enterprise Systems Trading, has used a filtering system.
Before the switch, the company would go through 12 five-gallon bottles per month and 2,000 half-litre ones, said Mr Parsafar, managing director of the company, which has 30 employees.
The system cost about Dh4,000 and the filtering system had a return on investment of less than a year, but money was not the deciding factor, he said.
“I couldn’t care less about the money,” said Mr Parsafar. “It was the health reasons and the fact we are using less plastic in the community, which makes me sleep better in the evenings.”
Money was, however, a motivation for some of the 12 companies that have so far joined Drop it, a campaign to encourage people to use tap water. One company realised it was spending Dh350,000 on bottled water, said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, co-founder of Goumbook and organiser of the campaign.
Potable water in the UAE generally has a high quality, except in some areas of Sharjah, she said. Piping and storage tanks must be well maintained to ensure that quality remains high.
With bottled water, consumers should be aware that some brands filter tap water or the by-product of industrial processes, she said. But a more serious issue is the plastic used to store it.
Companies usually use polycarbonate or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Scientists have long cautioned that the former, marked with recycling code number seven, can leak chemicals into the drinks or foods stored in it.
New studies are also questioning the safety of PET, which is marked with code number one.
The most controversial chemical is bisphenol A or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate plastics of which five-gallon refillable bottles are made.
The substance mimics the hormone estrogen, said Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. Prof vom Saal was the first scientist to publish findings in BPA’s adverse effects on the endocrine and reproductive systems of mice in 1997.
Since then “everybody kept finding that it did the most incredible array of harmful things”, he said.
It is linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, allergy, asthma and generalised inflamation, he said.
There are also effects on the reproductive system. For example, the level of BPA in a woman’s blood is related to the success of in-vitro fertilisation treatment.
For those with high amounts of the chemical in their blood – between three and four parts per billion – the chance of producing a living baby is about 15 per cent. This goes up to 50 per cent for women who have low blood levels of the chemical, said Prof vom Saal.
“You live in a part of the world where it gets really hot. In that situation the plastic degrades and the levels of chemicals in the water go up,” he said.
BPA is not banned but some manufacturers are replacing it, often times with bisphenol S (BPS). Rather than make products safer, BPS is a perfect example of regrettable substitution, said Nancy Wayne, reproductive neuroendocrinologist and professor at the University of California – Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Prof Wayne and her colleagues compared the effects of BPA and BPS on zebra fish embryos. The team looked at biological signals such as the level of gene expression of reproductive hormones, the growth of brain cells that control reproduction and hatching time.
“We found very similar effects between BPA and BPS that lead us to conclude that BPS is not safer than BPA,” she said.
Prof Wayne’s advised opting for storing water in glass bottles, stainless containers or ceramic mugs.
Prof vom Saal said even PET can release endocrine-disrupting chemicals. He blamed the problem on plastic manufacturers not being required to list their products’ chemical components.
“As long as it is impossible to find out what chemicals are in any plastic, nobody should assume that plastic does not contain harmful chemicals,” he said.
Updated: February 1, 2017 04:00 AM