Can Water Go Bad?

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September 22, 2014 | 311,730 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Water could “go bad” if you store it improperly, reuse dirty bottles, or fail to regularly clean your water filtration system
  • If you use a water filtration system, such as reverse osmosis, you must remember to regularly clean out the holding tank to avoid microbial overgrowth that may contaminate your water
  • Ambient temperature and exposure to sunlight and/or your lips can introduce microorganisms into your water glass or bottle, which can then begin to thrive and contaminate your water
  • Commercial water bottles tend to wear down from repeated use, which can lead to bacterial growth in surface cracks inside the bottle. This risk is compounded if you fail to adequately wash the bottle between each use
  • Toxic chemicals can also leach out of plastic bottles into the water, and is a good reason to avoid plastic bottles in the first place

By Dr. Mercola

Water is essential for life, and we typically assume that water is "clean" or "good" provided you're not getting your water from a contaminated source. But can water ever "go bad"?

If you have a water filtration system in your home, it may not occur to you that your water could become contaminated after a while—until you go to clean out the holding tank, that is.

If you fail to regularly clean out the holding tank of a reverse osmosis filter, it could lead to an absolute mess of microbial growth that is certainly NOT going to produce clean, pure water when you turn on the tap.

And, as noted by Dr. Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins University Water Institute in a recent Time article,1 factors such as ambient temperature and exposure to sunlight and/or your lips can introduce microorganisms into your water glass or bottle, if left out for extended periods of time, which can then begin to thrive under the right conditions.

Reusing disposable plastic water bottles also has its risks, as discussed in the featured Huffington Post article.2 In short, water could "go bad" if you store it improperly, reuse dirty bottles, or fail to regularly clean your water filtration system.

Why It's Unwise to Reuse Plastic Water Bottles

A 2007 report titled "Bottled Water Myths: Separating Fact from Fiction," published in the journal Practical Gastroenterology,3 warns that "consumer reuse of commercially packaged bottles of water is not recommended from a microbe perspective."

Commercial water bottles tend to wear down from repeated use, which can lead to bacterial growth in surface cracks inside the bottle. This risk is compounded if you fail to adequately wash the bottle between each use, using mild soap and warm water. But even with washing, these microscopic hiding places may still allow bacteria to linger.

Perhaps more importantly, while this report still questions the safety of the plastic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), we now know that BPA and phthalates can pose serious health hazards, especially to pregnant women and children.

BPA was identified as an estrogen-mimicking compound in the 1930s. At that time, it was used as an artificial estrogen to fatten up poultry and cattle, and served as a form of estrogen replacement therapy for women.

Phthalates are another group of chemicals found in plastic bottles, which are also known to pose similar health hazards. Phthalates are actually one of the most pervasive endocrine disrupters so far discovered, and are associated with a number of developmental abnormalities.

It was only in the 1940s that Bayer and General Electric used BPA to harden polycarbonate plastics and make epoxy resin while phthalates makes the plastic softer. We now know that BPA and phthalates leach from the plastic container, contaminating any food or drink it contains.

From this perspective, I recommend avoiding bottled water altogether. This, in my view, is a far more concerning issue than the issue of potential microbial growth occurring as the bottle starts to wear out.

Glass Is One of the Best Alternatives

In 2010, Canada declared BPA as a toxic substance, and BPA has been banned in baby bottles in both Europe and the US. It's still permitted in plastic water bottles and other plastic food containers, however. One 2011 study4 also discovered that most plastic products leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals even if they're labeled "BPA-free."

Seventy percent of common plastic products actually tested positive for estrogenic activity, and that number rose to 95 percent when the products were subject to real-world conditions such as dishwashing or microwaving.

Heat and sunlight can also accelerate the breakdown of the plastic, so avoid drinking from bottles that have languished for some time in the back of your car, for example.

To avoid chemical toxins leaching into your water, choose glass over plastic. While this article is focused on water, this advice applies to canned goods as well, which are a major source of BPA exposure, so whenever you can, choose jarred goods over canned goods, or opt for fresh instead.

The Hazards of Refilling Unwashed Water Bottles

That said, it's certainly worth being mindful of the microbial issue, regardless of whether you're using glass or plastic bottles—although plastic is more porous and therefore more likely to harbor bacteria. As noted in the featured article:5

"In a 2002 study6... researchers from the University of Calgary took 76 samples of water from water bottles of elementary school students; some of the bottles were reused for months on end without being washed.

They found that nearly two-thirds of the samples had bacterial levels that exceeded that of drinking water guidelines, which may have been the result of 'the effect of bacterial regrowth in bottles that have remained at room temperature for an extended period,' researchers wrote in the study...

"[T]he most likely source of enteric bacteria found in the students' water bottles is the hands of the students themselves... Inadequate and improper hand washing after students have used the bathroom facilities could result in fecal coliforms in the classroom area."

A previous KLTV investigation7 also found that reusing a water bottle for just one week led to growth of bacteria that might cause illness. Dr. Richard Wallace told KLTV:

"We actually cultured around the neck and just on the inside, the part that would go in your mouth. All of those grew lots and lots of bacteria that could make you very sick almost like having food poisoning. That can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea... You've got to remember that bottles like this are not sterile and the water in them is not sterile. As soon as you drink out of them they are contaminated bottles."

Not All Water Is Created Equal

Besides the issue of proper storage, and the necessity to maintain your water filtration system if you want safe, clean water, there are also different types of water, and some is healthier than others. I recommend avoiding distilled water and opting for water that is as "live," meaning structured, as possible. During distillation, water is boiled and evaporated away from its dissolved minerals. The vapor is then condensed, and the resulting water droplets are collected.

I know that there are many who have strong opinions on distilled water and believe it is healthy, but my research does not support that. Distilled water is an active absorber, and when it makes contact with air, it quickly absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes acidic. Since it is free of dissolved minerals and other particles, it has the ability to absorb toxic substances from your body and eliminate them. However, although drinking distilled water may be helpful when detoxifying for a week or two, the longer you drink it, the more likely you are to develop mineral deficiencies.

Exclusively drinking distilled water can lead you to rapidly lose electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride) and trace minerals, which can cause cardiac irregularities, high blood pressure, and cognitive/emotional disturbances. In a paper8 by F. Kozisek of the World Health Organization (WHO), water low in calcium and magnesium, such as distilled water, is associated with the following health problems:

Cardiovascular disease

Pre-term births, low birth weights, and preeclampsia

Higher risk of bone fracture in children

Various types of cancer

Neurodegenerative diseases

Increased risk of "sudden death"

Motor neuronal diseases

Acute magnesium and calcium deficiency, weakness, fatigue and muscle cramping

Distilled Water May Not Be as Pure as You Think

There are other potential issues to contend with as well. While many believe distilled water is more pure or free of contaminants than other water, the end result is really only as pure as the water you start off with... The reason for this is that any contaminant in the water that vaporizes at a lower temperature than the water, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC), will also be condensed on the other side. Most tap water contains disinfection byproducts (DBPs), such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs), which are extremely toxic.

DBPs are estimated to be over 10,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminations present in your tap water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs are thought to be the worst. Again, the process of distilling can worsen the presence of DBPs in your water, as they vaporize at a lower temperature than water. Hence they're boiled and condensed on the other side. As a result of these now common water contaminants, the distilled water could actually contain higher concentrations of dangerous contaminants than what you started out with. In essence, you'll have "purified" water PLUS all those volatile chemicals that are among the most toxic.

Additionally, because distilled water is acidic and demineralized, it will tend to pull contaminants out of whatever container you put it in. Many distillers on the market are made of metal, which may add certain toxic metals like nickel back into the water. And if you use a distiller with a plastic bottle, you have a number of plastic chemicals to contend with, such as the BPA and phthalates discussed above.

Your Body Benefits from Living, Structured Water

In 2011, and again in 2013, I interviewed Dr. Gerald Pollack about his truly ground-breaking theory of the physics of water. Besides being a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, he's also the founder and editor-in-chief of a scientific journal called Water, and has published many peer-reviewed scientific papers on this topic. He's even received prestigious awards from the National Institutes of Health. He believes that structured or living water actually has a different chemical structure and is not H2O but H3O2.

His book, The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor, is a phenomenal read that is easy to understand. The fourth phase of water is, in a nutshell, living water. It's referred to as EZ water—EZ standing for "exclusion zone"—which has a negative charge. This water can hold energy, much like a battery, and can deliver energy too. Your cells consist mainly of EZ (highly structured/ordered) water, and since they're composed of EZ water, they too work like little batteries in your body.

This is what makes drinking structured water so important, as this is the type of water your cells need for optimal functioning. You may have heard about "structured water" before. Many are skeptical, and some don't even believe it exists, let alone that it has any value. But it's important when trying to find high quality water. Water filtration processes used to clean our water supply frequently de-structures the water, so the question is whether or not adding structure back into the water matters. Dr. Pollack explains this challenging concept in the following lecture:

How to Obtain Structured, Living Water

Dr. Pollack believes that if you're able to drink structured water, it would be good for your health. But how do you obtain living, structured water? Water achieves its ordered structure from energy obtained from the environment, typically in the form of electromagnetic radiation, including sunlight and infrared (heat). The visible light spectrum, ultraviolet (UV) and near infrared, builds ordered water. But for practical purposes, to add structure back into your purified water at home, you can use the following two approaches:

  1. Cooling it to about 39 degrees Fahrenheit (about  4 degrees Centigrade)
  2. Stirring the water with a spoon in a circular jar to create a vortex

Dr. Pollack is actually investigating the possibility that structured (EZ) water may be an intermediate between water and ice. It's possible that the real structure of EZ water is close to ice—almost but not quite, which would explain why cooling it helps reorganize and restructure it. Creating vortices also works to add structure back into the water because the agitation builds bubbles that are enveloped into the vortex. According to Dr. Pollack, "if these bubbles contain an envelope of structured water, then vortexing would be a very powerful way of increasing structure." Water can also be restructured by running an electrical current through it, but more research is still needed to determine the exact voltage needed to be effective.

Besides cooling and vortexing, you can find living water in natural springs. This water also tends to be in the neutral pH range, which would be my preference. To find a local spring where you can collect water (typically free of charge), see Ideally, use glass containers. Just be sure to take precautions so they don't break during transport, and avoid leaving them in the car where exposure to light and heat might promote microbial colonization. Rain water is also structured water, which is why lawns look so much better after a rain than they do when getting water from the hose. However, because of pollution I don't advise drinking rain water.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Time August 13, 2014
  • 2 Huffington Post August 14, 2014
  • 3  Practical Gastroenterology, Bottled Water Myths (PDF)
  • 4 Environmental Health Perspectives March 2, 2011 (Epub Ahead of Print)
  • 5 Huffington Post August 14, 2014
  • 6 Canadian Journal of Public Health 2002 Sep-Oct;93(5):366-7
  • 7 KLTV May 19, 2003
  • 8 Health Risks from Drinking Demineralized Water (PDF)