LivingTravelIs it safe to drink tap water in London...

Is it safe to drink tap water in London and the UK?

Many first-time travelers to the UK want to know if tap water is safe to drink; After all, there is nothing like a stomach bug to put a disappointment to your vacation. The short answer is yes: all tap water in the UK and Ireland is safe. This will be a relief for those traveling on a budget, as bottled water is charged at a premium, especially in London. Filling your bottle with tap water is an easy way to cut costs.

The facts and figures

Not only is British tap water safe, it is also rated one of the cleanest in the world (yes, ahead of the United States!). In 1897, the town of Maidstone in Kent was the first in the world to have its entire water system treated with chlorine as a preventive measure against water-borne epidemics such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Today 94% of British citizens report that they are satisfied with their main water supply, and in blind taste tests, many people cannot distinguish between tap water and bottled water.

 

In fact, the English newspaper The Telegraph published an article in 2013 stating that bottled water may not be as safe as tap water because it is not subject to the same stringent tests. Millions of tests are carried out each year to ensure that Britain’s mains water adheres to the standards reported by scientific research from the World Health Organization. In 2014, the results showed a compliance rate of 99.96% in England, a compliance rate of 99.98% in Scotland and a compliance rate of 99.86% in Northern Ireland.

 

Where does the water come from?

68% of UK tap water comes from surface water sources, including reservoirs, lakes and rivers. The rest comes from underground springs and aquifers. Whether you will be drinking surface or ground water largely depends on which area of the UK you plan to visit. In general, tap water in the west of Ireland and south-east England (including London) comes from groundwater sources, while tap water in the Midlands, northern England, most of Wales, Scotland and Cornwall comes from surface water sources.

 

Groundwater is naturally loaded with more minerals than surface water, giving it a ‘hard’ taste that some visitors may take some getting used to. By comparison, the softer water further north is often praised for its pure taste, which some attribute to the UK’s notoriously soggy weather. Frequent rain constantly replenishes the country’s lakes and reservoirs, so the water is never allowed to stagnate.

State-of-the-art filtration process

The filtration process differs slightly for surface and groundwater, with several additional steps required for the latter due to the fact that it is naturally exposed to more environmental pollutants. At the treatment plant, surface water is generally kept for many days in an open storage tank so that solid contaminants can settle to the bottom. Sunlight also helps break down organic materials and bacteria. Finally, it is filtered through metal grids to remove floating objects, such as leaves.

 

Thereafter, the process is the same for both types of water. A chemical coagulant is added to allow the silt particles to clog together, facilitating their removal by filtration. The water is then aerated to remove unwanted gases (such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide), before passing through a container of granular activated carbon (GAC). This device contains porous carbon particles that absorb organic compounds from water to improve clarity. Finally, the water is injected with ozone to break down the pesticides, then treated with chlorine to kill the remaining bacteria.

 

It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to several days for the water to travel from the plant to your tap. If you have a long journey ahead of you, your water is treated with ammonia, which reacts with chlorine to create a longer-lasting disinfectant.

Things to remember

Although all tap water is safe to drink in the UK, there are a few points to remember before filling your glass. The Drinking Water Inspection (DWI) advises that it is best to avoid drinking from the hot tap, because hot taps are usually connected to a storage tank or heater rather than directly to the mains and the water may not be as fresh. In rare cases, cold water taps can be connected to a private water source or rain tank. Typically, hotels and public places will mark these taps with a “no drinking water” sign so that you know to fill your water bottle elsewhere.

 

Occasionally, the water appears cloudy when it first comes out of the tap. This is caused by too much air, and the water will soon clear if you let it sit for a minute or two. If you travel to London or another southern city (such as Oxford or Bath), you may find that the taste of hard water is not to your liking. Instead of wasting expensive bottled water, consider adding mint, cucumber, or lemon to alter the taste. Similarly, cooling tap water removes the slight chlorine taste that sometimes remains from the treatment process.

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