Can You Drink Tap Water in Paris?

In July of 2019, a Twitter rumor sparked chatter that the water in Paris is no longer safe to drink. The tweet indicated that there were unsafe chemicals in Paris’s tap water, particularly “titanium”. The originator of the tweet was a nurse at a Paris hospital. Titanium compounds aren’t exactly water soluble, so that part of the rumor was pretty obviously just that, a rumor.

So, can you drink tap water in Paris? The water in Paris is safe for human consumption, According to Parisian water authority. Tap water is absolutely safe for human consumption.

But just like any tap water, there are potential health risks. Chemicals are added to tap water, plus there are other factors that can affect the safety of consuming tap water. There are ways to determine whether or not the water is safe to drink, as well as alternatives to consuming tap water in Paris.

Tap Water in Paris vs. Tap Water in Other Big Cities

Similarly, to most big cities, Paris’s water is safe to drink, but the taste may not be ideal. This is common with water that supplies large populations, due to the amount of chlorine added to the water. Although chlorine is safe when added in modest levels, it can emit a bleach or swimming pool like odor. This is especially true when the weather brings warmer temperatures.Recently, with the rising risk of terrorism, the Eau de Paris has been adding more chlorine than usual. This will ideally help combat any chemicals that are added to the water supply. Although the levels are still safe, according to the guidelines handed down from the World Health Organization, those with a good sniffer can probably detect the chlorine in the drinking water.

Locals and authorities both swear by allowing your drinking water to “breathe”, if you’d like to ditch the scent of chlorine. Simply put your tap water in a water bottle, without a lid, and leave it in the refrigerator for a few hours. This will let the smell escape.

Paris’s Unique Water System

Most cities have a single set of pipes that delivers water for its residents. This water is then used for anything from drinking and cooking to watering gardens. This is even the same water that firefighters use to combat a blaze.

The water system in Paris consists of two sets of pipes. Both pipes are underground and run through the sewers. They are attached to the ceilings and run throughout the whole city. This system delivers quite a case for the safety of Paris’s drinking water. In fact, it makes it seem almost safer than in other big cities.

 Non-Potable Water in Paris

One of these pipes disperses not potable water that is not safe for consumption bathing. Non-potable water is actually not clean enough for humans at all. This is the water that the city uses for cleaning its streets.

Under the city of Paris, these pipes bring in water from the nearby Seine River and Ourcq Canal. Once this untreated water washes the city streets, it flows back to the Seine River.

Potable Water

The second set of pipes is for treated water. This is the water that flows to the homes of city residents, local businesses, and other places that need treated water. The potable water has been cleaned and is what runs through the taps in Paris. Much of the potable water supply in Paris comes directly from springs.

The two sets of pipes are separate, and do not work together. At no point do they run together, so there is no risk of cross-contamination. This system is sophisticated and unique but does make the drinking water from taps cleaner.

Safe Levels of Chemicals in Tap Water

To keep the water clean and ward off bacteria, chemicals are actually added to the supply. Some of these chemicals are actually very dangerous, especially if the levels of these chemicals are elevated.

  • Arsenic
  • Chlorine
  • Fluorine compounds
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs)
  • Radium
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Cadmium
  • Barium
  • Hormones

And these are just a few of the things that can leak into our water supply, and then into our bodies. Even though these are naturally occurring in the earth, that doesn’t mean that they’re safe to drink all day every day.

What Makes Tap Water Unsafe to Drink?

Contaminated water supply does happen. There are many different variables that can affect the water supply, making it not safe to drink. Some of these factors include:

Natural disasters

Flooding, excessive rain, earthquakes, and hurricanes are the most common events that can affect the water supply.

Corroded pipes

Old pipes that rot can lead to chemicals dissolving in the water, making it unsafe to drink.

Fertilizers

Nitrates are helpful to plants but the runoff that gets into the water supply is poisonous

Waste (Animal or Human)

From sewage leaks or nearby farms, waste can seep into the water supply. Clearly, nobody should drink waste of any kind. 

Pesticides

Similar to fertilizers, pesticides can help maintain our crops. But if they’re draining right into the water supply, it is hazardous to human health.

Excessive garbage

Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s still noteworthy. Litter can affect the cleanliness of the water supply.

Chemical Spills

Just like oil spills hurting our fragile ocean life, chemical spills have the same effect on humans. There are guidelines that companies must follow to avoid this, but accidents do happen.

Algae Blooms

When algae grows at a rapid rate, it can cause one of these. This happens in any water supply, but you can imagine what would happen if this infiltrated a city’s water supply.

The above is a list of the most common factors that can upset the water supply. Water systems are very delicate and rely on balance, so any added component can upset the safety. Any of the above factors can contribute to making it dangerous to drink tap water.

Who Decides if the Water is Safe?

As previously mentioned, Paris follows the standards set forth by the World Health Organization. Depending on where you are in the world, there are other agencies that determine water safety. These authorities are constantly testing the water supply to make sure the chemicals present are at a safe level.

But of course, you are the only one that can decide if a particular water supply is safe for you to drink and whether or not you’ll consume that water.

Before You Sip

Nobody wants to get sick while they’re on vacation. And nothing taints your trip quite like getting ill from drinking the water. If you’re planning a trip to Paris and you’re still concerned, there are several things you should look for before rehydrating with tap water.

Clarity

This is something that diamonds, and water have in common. The more clarity, the better. This isn’t to say that tap water with a touch of cloudiness isn’t safe by regulation standards, but unclear water is a sign of contaminants.

Buildup

If the water coming from the tap leaves a film on your hands when you wash, it’s probably not a good idea to drink it. A slimy feeling on your hands might be the result of a magnesium or calcium buildup, which isn’t necessarily dangerous and doesn’t mean your water is contaminated.

Discoloration

This may seem obvious, but if the water coming from the tap has any sort of color to it, don’t drink it. Discoloration can also mean that there are chemicals present that can lead to bacteria growth.

  • Orange tinted water is an indicator of chemicals present, such as aluminum, manganese, or even lead.
  • Yellow water can mean that chromium-6 is present in the water source, which can cause cancer.
  • Brown can mean that the water pipes are getting rusty, allowing the chemicals to seep into the water supply and allowing further bacteria to grow. This can also suggest there is an unsafe level of iron in the water.
  • Blue or Green is a sign that there is a high level of copper in the water. This is another issue stemming from older pipes that are corroding.

Smell

Again, this might seem obvious, but if you’re about to take a sip of some ice-cold tap water and it’s emitting a strong odor of any kind, put that glass down. Any type of scent coming from the water is a sign that something is off, and the water may not be safe for drinking.

  • Bleach like smell can be a sign of excess chlorine. Chlorine is added to most water to keep germs and bacteria at bay, but if you’re smelling a swimming pool before you take a swig, there is more than likely a higher amount of this chemical.
  • Fishy odors come from an unsafe amount of barium or cadmium. Both of these chemicals are “natural” and come from the earth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe to consume. Barium and cadmium can seep into the water from nearby factories or even drilling.
  • Eggs, rotten eggs to be exact. You know that smell. It’s also slightly reminiscent of fireworks. Nostalgic, yes, but not want you want to breathe in while you’re drinking water. This smell signals that hydrogen sulfide is present in a much higher capacity than normal.

What to do If You Suspect the Water Isn’t Safe to Drink

If any of the above conditions applies to the tap water you’re about to drink, you should gently set down the glass, and walk away. Maybe you don’t have to be that dramatic, but if you don’t think the water is safe, then simply don’t drink it. Risking your health isn’t worth it, especially if you’re on vacay.

If you’re at a restaurant, bottled water is always an option, so don’t hesitate to make this request at your meal. If you peep the tap water in the glasses at your neighbors’ table and it doesn’t look great, then you can eliminate this step and just ask for bottled.

But if you’re traveling and staying somewhere that you’ll have access to a kitchen, you could boil the tap water before drinking it. If you can, boil the water for at least one minute. And of course, let it cool before consumption. This won’t remove all of the bad stuff, but it will kill a good portion of it, making it safer to drink.

However, if you’re still unsure as to whether or not you want to drink the tap water in Paris, there are several travel water purifiers available. Something that will fit in your suitcase without taking up too much room would be. A personal water filter that’s lightweight also makes for easy carrying as you’re exploring a new city. Here are a few fan favorites…

Alternatives to Drinking Tap Water

You may still be thinking, if there’s even a question regarding the safety of the tap water, why risk it? Why gamble with your own health? There are, of course, many different ways to stay hydrated, even while avoiding tap water. And if you’re in Paris, you’re extra lucky because they have more alternatives than most other big cities.

Fontaine à Eau Pétillante

Following the new norm of the Italians, Paris now has several sparkling water fountains throughout the city. You can walk right up to one of these water dispensers and fill your own water bottle or cup with fresh, Parisian bubbly (the non-alcoholic kind, of course)… free of charge.

The sparkling water is also chilled, bonus! No water bottle? No problem. Most of these sparkling water fountains have a vending machine nearby that dispenses reusable water bottles.

Bottled Water

The obvious choice would be to request bottled water when dining or drinking in public. In fact, most waiters and waitresses will offer this first, as it will increase your tab. Although not the most environmentally friendly option, bottled water is always available if you’d prefer.

If you can, plan ahead and get your bottled water at the neighborhood supermarket. Avoid purchasing bottled water at train stations, street carts, museums or other specialty places. If you’re touring around town and get extra thirsty, it would be better to be prepared then to spend an arm and a leg on a bottle of water.

Buying water at these places will cost you more money. These spots add a substantial mark up to their bottled water. You can also purchase bottled water in bulk and keep the rest in your hotel room or wherever you might be staying.

What the Locals Say

The Parisian locals seem to be very confident in their tap water supply, borderline prideful. Now that we know about the water system, they’ve worked so hard to preserve, it’s easy to see why. Ask around, residents of Paris will tell you that their tap water is safe, and many of them prefer it to bottled water.

If you’re going to ask native Parisians whether or not you can drink their tap water, be prepared for a little kickback. They almost seem insulted by anyone questioning the safety of the water. Despite the Twitter rumor, the locals seem to trust the Eau de Paris and believe they’re drinking safe water.

If you’re wanting to blend in while on vacation and avoid looking like a tourist, the locals suggest taking advantage of the tap water.

Wallace Fountains

A generous millionaire built these fountains in the 1870s, all around Paris. The intent was to make water accessible to all Parisians. Locals suggest bringing your water bottle to fill up at one of these cast-iron gems around town. These fountains also double as art, adding a little extra functional beauty to the city.

It’s easy to understand why the people of Paris are so proud of their drinking water. The city has done an incredible job of making sure that everyone has access to safe drinking water, according to health standards. This is no easy task in many countries, but especially difficult in big cities.

Local Authorities Plug for Tap Water

Because the safety of Paris’s tap water does come into question from time to time, as does any large city’s water supply, the Eau de Paris is going above and beyond to try to maintain confidence in the drinking water. They’ve created an adorable souvenir carafe, similar to the one you can request at restaurants in Paris.

Each neighborhood in Paris, or arrondissement, has its own logo and design on the carafe. It’s a fantastic collector’s item, but it also makes it easy and convenient to get your own water from any of the 120 public water fountains in the city.

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