Why drinking water splits the EU


Everybody knows it: particularly in the summer, water becomes very, very important. Whether it's a dip in a swimming pool or a gulp of water from a bottle – the human body, which, depending on a person's age, is 50 to 70% water, now craves this cooling and thirst-quenching liquid. But how "good" is the tap water in Germany really?

From the tap, bottle or… ?

Can we drink water from the tap instead of from a bottle? What many people don’t know is that drinking water is the most examined food in Germany, particularly for contaminants . According to the Federal Environment Agency, the quality of drinking water in Germany is very good in nearly all German states. Thresholds were only slightly exceeded in isolated cases. So it’s no wonder that many thirsty people have turned to home water carbonation systems so they can enjoy a drink of water at home whenever they want. The water carbonation system which is connected directly to the water pipe gives the family of today their favourite kind of water just as and whenever they like it. And the advantages are obvious: freshly chilled, fully carbonated, semi-sparkling or still water – there are no limits to individuality! No heavy mineral water bottles to lug, no transport – and water is literally on tap at home virtually always.

In some regions, there is good cause for doubts

But the question remains: tap or bottled? Many water drinkers are worried about the dangers that lurk in the water pipes: germs, pharmaceutical residues or even traces of lead and other contaminants caused by old water pipes can impact the quality of drinking water. “Better to buy bottled mineral water” is many people’s motto. So is it better to lug heavy bottles of water than drink tap water?

Nitrate in the water can be dangerous

A report on Utopia.de should be grist to the mill for this group of consumers: in many regions of Germany, the nitrate content thresholds in drinking water are too high, in over a quarter of water reservoirs the nitrate concentration even exceeds the legal limit. The reasons? Excessive use of fertilisers in agriculture. The water cycle allows the nitrate to get from the groundwater into the water treatment plants and so ultimately from the water tap into the glass that the consumer is holding in his hand. This is extremely concerning for pregnant women, small children and particularly babies, for whom too high a nitrate content has damaging effects. The legislator has already taken precautions in the Fertiliser Ordinance, which came into force in June, so any contamination is reduced, but doubts about the quality of drinking water remain as there are simply too many factors that influence the purity of drinking water.

Doubts about the quality of drinking water remain as there are simply too many factors that influence the purity of drinking water.


The experts’ opinion on drinking water from the tap is: “The last metres are crucial”. For the journey that the water takes though the building is often a problem. Above all in office buildings where endless pipes run through the property and the pipes are frequently being extended or altered, or in private houses where the owner himself has tried to lay copper or nickel pipes and used sealing material which is actually not suitable at all.



Very high health risk: legionella in the water

Legionella, that is to say bacteria that can occur in the hot water systems of buildings, are a risk: according to estimates, every year 15,000 to 30,000 people in Germany contract pneumonia and other dangerous illnesses as a result of legionella. These bacteria are transmitted to humans in the steam of a shower. To ensure that tenants and landlords are on the safe side, ista offers the drinking water analysis prescribed by law in multi-family buildings. Not without reason: so far a legionella concentration posing a health risk was found in roughly 12% of all drinking water systems examined by ista. Here, as is so often the case, the old adage applies: trust is good, control is better.


The Drinking Water Ordinance: trust water in Germany, be sceptical about water abroad

Germany also has a Drinking Water Ordinance, which provides a high degree of safety. But that is quite different in other EU member states: anybody for whom the water in the hotel room minibar is too expensive should think twice in southern EU countries about whether it is a good idea to drink tap water instead. The water in the whole of Europe is suitable for boiling but when it comes to cleaning their teeth, holiday-makers should not use tap water but stick to water which has been bottled and sealed in an industrial plant. The reason: all EU member states are subject to the same binding requirements on drinking water quality, but the EU directives do not regulate how the quality standard required is to be achieved. At first glance that is astounding but it reflects something which applies to many regulations in Europe: each EU country is free in how they implement them.
Our small “drinking water guide” gives you a first rough indication as to where you would be better not to drink tap water in your holiday destination:

[Quelle: Focus Online]

High quality standards nationwide, but tests remain advisable

While experts agree on the quality of EU water – and warn of “life-threatening tap water” in some EU countries – the camps are split when it comes to the overall situation in Germany. On the one hand, domestic “drinking water” is for many experts “a highly controlled elixir of life”. They say that the concentration of contaminants is so low that it has practically no effect on our health any more. But, on the other hand, many are already warning that the danger from too many pollutants and nitrates could change the situation. That is to say when the nitrate concentration in the groundwater rises constantly. And tests prove that, after Malta, Germany has the second-highest nitrate concentration in its groundwater . The consequence: complex water treatment plants have to filter water so that people can still drink it in future without worrying. That involves a lot of costs which the water utilities would ultimately have to pass on to the consumers. According to a study by the Federal Environment Agency, this could increase the cost of drinking water by up to 45%.

The quality of our water is higher than ever before, but regular tests are essential.


Conclusion: Just like the water cycle, the wheel comes full circle: water is and remains a precious resource, the quality of our water is higher than ever before, but regular tests are essential so it stays that way in future.