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Tap vs Bottled Water; Guidance Appreciated

  1. Sep 23, 2007 #1
    Hello, im currently in the first year of my IB program, taking Higher Level Chemistry, Im required to write an extended essay (4000 word paper). Im considering writing on water, performing analysis and comparing tap water, to some branded waters and reaching a conclusion. I read about a study in my local paper, where they talk about the high level of pollutants or germs some certain local bottled waters had.
    Any help as to what to research (topics), testing processes, and if this topic addreasable within the 4000 word limit.

    *Edit: My conclusion would be something along the lines of, is it worth it paying X times more for water in a bottle than tap; considering ´´pollution´´(Anything bad, pollutants, germs, traces of certain elements) levels in both local bottled and tap water.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2007 #2
    bottled water is usually just filtered tap water.
    Pretty ambitious, 4000 words
    Try ph level, and various water tests they do when drilling wells.
  4. Sep 23, 2007 #3


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    One has to look at the source of water, e.g. ground or surface water, or subterranean as in a spring or acquifer. Then one has to look at the process from transfer from the source, to the distribution system. Similarly for bottled water - look at the source and treatment process. Does the process involve distillation, reverse osmosis and/or filtration or not.

    The piping in water distribution was carbon steel or ductile iron vs in a bottling plant, I imagine they use stainless steel, but that's just a guess.

    I used to work in a munificipal water production facility, and we did minimal treatment, other than chlorinate it on the way out of the distribution center. The water source was a deep acquifer, so it was assumed the water was largely free of bacteria. It also came out of the ground quite hot, as I recall, so we had to cool it.
  5. Sep 23, 2007 #4
    I am an environmental chemist.

    There really isn't any difference between tap vs bottled water.

    Except marketing!

    This is NOT to say some water might not taste better than some other water. I had some water out of a spring in Arkansas once that was absolutely delicious.

    I can give you a list of some things that are commonly analyzed in water.

    ---Alkalinity/Acidity (A measure of the ability of the water to soak up base/acid. You titrate to a defined pH.)
    ---Residual Chlorine This will be found in tap water, but NOT in bottled water, because it is volatile and decomposes quickly. It's a residue of the chlorine used in the treatment plant.

    Plus a few that are also looked for on occasion.

    Plus a few organics:
    These can come from underground gasoline storage tanks that are leaking. The aromatic organics can be extracted from the gasoline as they are slightly soluble in water. Benzene is soluble up to about five per cent, the others less than that but not much. The alkanes are not soluble.
    Also checked for are the trihalomethanes that can be generated by the chlorination process.


    Hope this helps.

    Jeff Corkern
    Consider the following as a statement of logic and rank it as "True" or "False."

    "If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to deduce this by logical analysis of their behavior."

  6. Sep 23, 2007 #5
    I got to choose a topic for my paper sometime before the 5th of october, Im not totally fixed on this one. A big concern is not having enough to write about or being to broad. The point I would try to prove in this paper was that citizens in cities with regulated water supplies have no need to buy bottled water on the belief its ''safer''.
    I know that both tap and bottled are very similar, sometimes bottled is just filtered tap, and im wondering if i perform test and they both turn out very similar. Will i still have enough Chemical content? So its still a Chemistry Paper.

    Thanks for everyones help.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2007
  7. Sep 23, 2007 #6


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    Homework Helper

    The economics and marketing aspects are probably more interesting / extensive than the chemistry.

    eg. Coca Cola launched a mineral water in the UK 'dansani' that was simply filtered tap water - unfortunately their filters managed to take perfectly good water and ADD illegal levels of some organic solvent.
  8. Sep 24, 2007 #7
    I gave it some though on the fact that the marketing aspect is big. Im trying to keep this paper chemistry oriented due to the fact that i was unable to take economics because of schedule conflicts. So it might complicate things for me to write a 4000 word paper on it.
    Ive done some reading on how bottled water is so underregulated compared to tap water, in the USA. I was considering doing a scientific comparison on local (Panama) Bottled and Tap water, then maybe adress the issue of marketing, talking more about the psychological aspect, the why, people buy the water.
    Is this feasable within 4000 words? (not too broad or narrow?) and would i be able to have enough chemical material to keep it chemistry or would it be more psychology? (If psychology i would talk more about human behavior and the reasons(social,mentally etc) why we pay ridiculous prices for bottled water when its almost the same as tap water.
  9. Sep 24, 2007 #8
    I get the impression you're worried about the wrong thing. The 4000 words.

    It's not the writing that's going to take the most effort and time. It's the research.

    Hmm. You could ask the question in the beginning, is there any scientific justification for paying more for bottled water. Then do some research and list what the chemical constituents are in each and what if any the major differences are. See what claims the companies who make the water are saying about it, maybe, and see if they hold up to scientific scrutiny. Then give your conclusion and justify it.

    IMO, my writer instinct says doing the psychology-of-marketing thing is a distraction. An essay works best if there is ONLY one subject.

    My recommendation to make it easier: Take notes as you go along. Occasionally re-arrange the notes to outline an essay. That way when writing time comes it'll be a lot easier.

    Now me, I could do 4000 words standing on my head. But I like to write. I like nothing better than spending hours on end writing stories, essays, and just plain weird stuff. See my little blog. :-)

    But I understand writing is hard for most people. Take notes and organize as you go, and in the end the writing will be a lot easier.

    Jeff Corkern
    Consider the following as a statement of logic and rank it as "True" or "False."

    "If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to deduce this by logical analysis of their behavior."

  10. Sep 24, 2007 #9
    Yea, I was worried i would either have to much information or too little (apparently its happens alot with this paper, according to faculty advisors, i guess they´re just playing it safe warning us about everything). I was kind of hovering near the idea and got side tracked with the marketing and all that, the ''Scientific justification...'' is great. One of the hardest things for me is starting off an essay, pin pointing my topic. So i guess its just going to get better from now.

    Thanks for your Help
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