What's in Your Water?

Independent Media
Few people could predict just a few years ago that bottled and cooler water would comprise almost 50 percent of total water consumption in Russia. While tap water quality is not improving, bottled water brands are multiplying at an amazing speed. Experts point out that tap water in Moscow and St. Petersburg is safe to drink 99 percent of the time, although it may have excess iron content. A more serious issue is the amount of chlorine in tap water, which is 20 times higher than that of tap water in France. Water quality is worst during spring, when snow begins to melt and the resulting water occasionally mixes with water headed for your faucet.

Most of the bottled water sold in Russia is regular tap water that has been purified. Whatever the label tells you, laboratory tests prove that the vast majority of water on the market has never touched alpine rocks, said Yury Gonchar of the Drinking Water Research Center. Since 2004, there have been over 2,000 licenses issued in Russia to producers of normal bottled water and bottled mineral water. Approximately 10-15 percent of all bottled water is labeled falsely, said Vadim Altayev of the Bottled Water Producers Union, and water labeled as "mineralnaya" is generally more risky, since by law it has to meet fewer requirements than "stolovaya" water.

The issue that doesn't seem to be much of a concern in Russia is whether the industry is too costly for the environment, especially as empty bottles accumulate on the streets and in the forests all around Moscow. The market is growing by 15 percent every year, and bottled water consumption in Russia is still half that of other developed countries. It's a lucrative business too: one liter of bottled water costs 15 rubles on average, but takes only 15 kopeks to produce, "probably a better business than cocaine or arms," Gonchar said. Most good filters take care of the chlorine and heavy metals in tap water, he said.