Is Singapore's Tap Water safe to Drink?
WHAT (WATER) ARE YOU DRINKING?
Do you know that not all waters are created equal? Read everything you need to know about water from Singapore's only Water Sommelier, Sam Wu!
There are fundamental differences between every brand you see in the supermarket. They are not the same because they are “created” differently. Indeed, every brand comes from a different source.
In general, drinking water can come from either a natural source (Natural Spring/Mineral Water) or from a man-made artificial source (Purified Water such as Distilled/Re-mineralised/ Oxygenated/ Alkaline water). Tap Water can come from either or can be a combination of both natural and artificial sources. In Singapore, Tap Water comes from both types of sources. However, as it is processed, it is ultimately still considered as Purified Water.
As a consumer, you must decide what type of water is the best for you. This depends on your priorities and your budget. Understanding the differences between both types, as well as their pros and cons, will help you make an educated, rational choice.
Below, I share my views and recommendations, summarised from my accumulated knowledge as a Certified Water Sommelier as well as my experience as an Importer/Distributor of Bottled Water in Singapore.
THE GIST OF IT…
VIEWS ON NATURAL MINERAL WATER:
Natural Mineral Waters (NMW) are a gift from Mother Nature.
Sadly, Singapore does not have the geology or “nature” to produce sufficient high-quality waters that can be extracted from beneath the ground. Therefore, the only way is to import these waters.
In the European context, where the world’s biggest brands of NMW come from, the label “Natural Mineral Water” is a “Certification” issued by the authorities to brands that have demonstrated that their waters are
- Microbiologically Safe
- Stable Mineral levels
- Of Original Purity (NO purification)
In short, it is a highly regulated product – one of the strictest in fact because it is 100% natural and unprocessed (with few exceptions). Hence, one cannot simply extract water from a well dug from one’s backyard, bottle it, and sell it as Natural Mineral Water.
This is the reason why Natural Mineral Waters must come from sources that are well-protected and far from industrial pollution. Any issues with the water and it will be banned and blacklisted from the market.
Buyers in Singapore should also be glad to know that the import of Natural Mineral Waters into Singapore is, too, very strictly regulated. For example, one cannot simply import and sell here without the official health certificates and lab tests results.
VIEWS ON PURIFIED BOTTLED WATER:
The short answer is: Purified Bottled Water is a completely unnecessary product on the market, especially so since safe drinking tap water is widely accessible and available.
The reason is painfully obvious, but many people fail to see it - purified bottled water is essentially just purified tap water. If tap water is already guaranteed safe, then there is simply no reason to purify the product further and “downgrade” to a product that potentially has a more repulsive taste than tap.
Therefore, it completely makes no sense to pay a premium for something similar to what you can virtually get for free anywhere in Singapore.
Fun fact: A 600ml bottle of drinking water retails for about S$0.50 S$1 (US$0.36 - US$0.73), while the same volume of tap water only costs 0.1 cent according to PUB. This makes tap water 500 to 1,000 times cheaper than bottled water.
Additionally, do not let marketing gimmicks such as Alkaline Water and Oxygenated Water sway your thoughts. The science behind these claims are inconclusive at best and downright misleading at worst. These are marketing gimmicks created by the purified water industry to convince you to pay MORE for what is essentially just another form of purified tap water.
In my opinion, purified bottled water is an utter travesty of Singapore’s impressive feat of being one of the few countries in the world capable of providing 100% safe drinking water directly from the tap.
SOMMELIER’S COMMENTS ON SINGAPORE TAP WATER:
One of the most common questions that people like to ask me is “As a Water Sommelier, you must be so particular about your water that I’m sure you DON’T drink tap Water, right?”
They could not be more wrong. In fact, a significant portion of what I drink is tap water or filtered tap water. And even as a Certified Water Sommelier, I remain a big advocate of tap Water in Singapore.
The reasons are simple. It is safe, tastes OK when drunk directly & GOOD when filtered. Best of all, it costs next to nothing.
Indeed, I think it is BAFFLING that Singaporeans would favour bottled purified water over tap water. This is largely due to the lack of understanding of what bottled purified water really is and unfounded fears over the safety of tap water.
These reasons include:
- Safety concerns with the addition of chlorine and fluoride. These fears are of course, unfounded. Most Singaporeans grew up on tap water with no health issues at all. On the contrary, the addition of trace amounts of fluoride have found to significantly combat tooth decay and gum disease.
- People have also not forgotten past scandals pertaining to water tanks in HDB flats, such as the once discovery of a dead body in a water tank. There are also questions on the routine cleaning of water tanks and the flushing of service pipes in buildings.
- Personally, my biggest gripe with tap water is its taste. The taste of chlorine can be palpable. Sometimes, one can also taste iron. Essentially, there is a taste that many people can pick up when drinking “fresh” tap water. Note that this experience differs all the time as the quality and mineral composition of tap water is never constant!
- The biggest challenge is to convince the public that it’s OK to drink tap water from public sources, such as from public toilets. Personally, I think it’s near impossible to change this perception. Nobody wants to drink from a tap in a toilet, myself included. A solution to this has yet to be implemented. Perhaps island-wide installation of water coolers?
Fortunately, all these issues can largely be resolved by installing a basic filter at home or at the office. I will explore more on this topic in another article, but no, you do not need a fancy filter that costs thousands of dollars. For those on the go, there are portable bottles that have mini-filters with activated carbon in them to make tap water taste better.
Fun fact! Do you know that the Municipal Tap Water regulations in Singapore contain more than 200 parameters for acceptable drinking water, whilst the AVA’s water quality parameters for imported bottled water contain only roughly 30?
THE WATER SOMMELIER’S PRINCIPLE
I will just be upfront. I NEVER ever buy purified bottled water.
My principle is: if I were to spend money on water, I would spend it on a water that comes from a natural source - in other words, a Natural Mineral Water. Otherwise, I will stick to tap or filtered tap. This is because there is no good reason for me to pay for something so similar to what I can get for virtually free of charge. Moreover, I’ve never been a fan of the taste of purified bottled water.
Additionally, if you are willing to set aside a budget of at least SGD$100 a month, it is possible to make Natural Mineral Water a significant source of water in your diet. Think of it as buying Organic food – after all, you are buying a product that is 100% Natural pure as per source. Try different brands and find out what you like taste-wise. Most importantly, get yourself educated, understand the concept of mineral compositions, and find out what these waters can do for you and for your health. Using Natural Mineral Waters to supplement one’s dietary requirements for essential minerals is a very legit thing to do in Europe where waters rich in calcium, sodium, magnesium, etc are more common. We will cover this topic in another article.
Having said that, do also invest in a decent filter at home for filtered Tap Water for general easy drinking and cooking. We will also cover this topic further in another article.