Can you drink the tap water in Chile and Santiago? Where does the tap water come from and how is it treated? What are the potential tap water contaminants? What is the best water filter for chile?
Most sources will say that tap water in Chile is safe to drink but is this really the case?
In this article we will answer all of these questions and more.
Where does the tap water in Chile come from?
Chile has three water regions:
- The southern provinces that receive large amounts of rain and snow. Here we also find some of the largest rivers in Chile.
- The central regions where the major urban centers of Santiago and Valparaíso are found with moderate rain and temperatures
- The dry regions of the north, including the Atacama Desert , one of the driest places on Earth
The main source of tap water in Chile is surface water with groundwater and aquifers mainly used in the north.
For Santiago the main water source is the Maipo river, for Valparaiso the Aconcagua River and for Biobio the Biobio river.
One major issue with the surface river water is water contamination from mining and agriculture. Over time this has required continuous improvements to water management and treatment for drinking water.
Drinking water produced from underground sources, such as wells or boreholes that supply much of the north central area of the country, contains more mineral salts (mainly calcium) and is said to be "harder". On the other hand, the water produced from surface sources (such as lakes or rivers) is "softer".
How is tap water in Chile regulated?
Chile's drinking water quality standard is NCh 409 Of 84 from 1984. This standard establishes the physical, chemical, radioactive and bacteriological requirements that drinking water from any supply system must meet.
The drinking water water is the same in all regions of the country. Chilean Standard 409 establishes the elements that must be present in tap water and at what levels. Drinking water in Chile must measure and meet and measure 43 quality parameters. These can be grouped into four types:
- Chemical and mineral levels
- Turbidity and absence of microorganisms
- Physical characteristics detectable by the senses (color, smell and taste) and
- Disinfection - the amount of chlorine
Compliance with this standard is supervised by the Superintendency of Sanitary Services (SISS) and by the health authorities (Ministry and Seremis of Health). When comparing with the European Union (SI N ° 122/2014-European Union Drinking Water Regulations 2014), the European one considers more elements to be measured than the Chilean one. However, if we look at the elements included in both standards, the Chilean one is stricter in terms of maximum allowed contaminant limits.
Is the tap water in Chile and Santiago safe to drink?
According to international standards Chile has good access to safe drinking water. At least 99.5% public tap water is considered safe to drink. The US Centers for Disease Control (a department of the US Department of Health) informs US citizens who come to Chile as tourists that tap water in cities is safe for consumption. See summary report here: https://www.fayerwayer.com/2019/03/agua-grifo-mapa-chile-costa-rica/
However this doesn’t mean that it’s always safe or that it takes good. Like most countries around the world Chile faces challenges such as (1) poor taste, (2) local issues, (3) unregulated contaminants (e.g. microplastics and pharmaceuticals) and (4) contaminants from old pipes or water tanks.
Let’s tackle these one by one:
1. Poor tasting water
It’s generally acknowledged that the taste of the water is not the best, especially in the north-central part of Chile and in its capital: Santiago.
The hardness of the water is classified on a scale. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , water below 60 mg / L (also referred to as ppm) is identified as soft, while in concentrations greater than 180, it is considered as very hard. The hardness primarily indicates that the tap water is mineral rich which means that hard water can be considered healthy for most people. Read more in our article about TDS.
In the Metropolitan region, most of the communes receive their drinking water from the Maipo River, located in the Cajón del Maipo. The waters of this stream are rich in calcium and magnesium, which gives the water a greater hardness (over 180 ppm). With chlorine and fluoride added, the characteristic flavor of the water is obtained. Hence most people in Santiago don’t like the taste and prefer bottled water.
But there is a simple solution. A high quality activated carbon water filter will significantly improve the taste as well as protect from possible contaminants.
2. Local tap water issues in Chile
A report from 2017 indicated high turbidity in many regions of the country. Turbidity was above the regulated standard in Lota, Reñaca, Concón, Talcahuano and Santa Juana presented high levels of turbidity. Others such as Arica, Copiapó, Caldera, Quilpué, El Quisco, Zapallar, Papudo, Rancagua, Machalí, Doñihue, Licantén, Constitución, Chanco, Chiguayante, Arauco, Osorno and Ancud presented turbidity to a lesser extent.
Observing the same records mentioned above there are also communes that did not meet the residual chlorine requirement of 0.5 mg/L. This includes cities such as Hijuelas, Viña del Mar, Cachagua, Papudo, Mirasol de Algarrobo, Constitución, Coronel and Alto Lampa.
According to the 2017 records by the SISS there were also a few areas with bacteria. This is the case of La Leonera, Maipú, Cerrillos, San José, El Abrazo and Lampa.
The population of these regions should require local authorities to improve the water quality.
Learn more about common tap water contaminants.
3. Unregulated contaminants
Although Chile has a stringent water quality standard like US and EU regulations it doesn’t cover all contaminants. Microplastics and pharmaceuticals for example are not regulated. It’s acknowledged that microplastics are bad for the environment and animals but we don’t yet fully understand the impact on humans. The same is true for small conversations of pharmaceuticals found in tap water. Better safe than sorry though. Infants, young children and pregnant women should therefore avoid microplastics and pharmaceuticals.
4. Local pipe and water tank corrosion and contamination
Another unregulated issue common throughout the world is contaminants from local pipes and water tanks. Issues include corrosion of copper, lead, iron and arsenic, leeching of plastics and bacteria growth including biofilm.
All of the issues described above can be solved with an affordable high quality water filter such as TAPP.
Tap water in Santiago
Tap water in Santiago is generally safe to drink. The water is treated according to WHO standards. The main issues are taste and local pipe contaminants (see above)
Tap water in Valparaiso
The tap water in Balparaiso is mostly sourced from the Aconcagua River. The water is safe to drink in most of the region.
Tap water in Biobio
The local tap water in Biobio comes from the Biobio river and is generally considered safe to drink.
Your local tap water in Chile
Check the water quality where you live: https://www.siss.gob.cl/
What about bottled water in Chile?
The most common solution to concerns or taste issues with the local tap water is bottled water. In general, people trust the quality of the bottled water they purchase, even though they are unaware of its physical-chemical content. Advertising by the bottled water companies have convinced charge of doing this work and consumers to buy water with an excessively high price (approx. US $0.3 per liter). Compare this with tap water with a price of US $ 0.1 cent per liter.
According to the research firm Euromonitor International, in Chile, bottled water consumption doubled, from 268 million liters in 2009 to 523 million in 2016, with an annual sales level of close to US $ 500 million. It is expected, for the year 2021, a consumption of 745.6 million liters.
But is bottled water really safer or healthier?
There is no scientific evidence that bottled water is healthier. In fact the opposite might be true as bottled water often leeches microplastics and the regulations of tap water are tighter.
In conclusion it’s recommended to avoid bottled water for the sake of your wallet, health and the common good of the planet.
What is the best water filter for Chile?
Concerned about the tap water your family is drinking or thinking about giving up buying bottled water? A high quality water filter designed for tap water in Chile can be a good alternative.
When selecting a water filter make sure
a) the filter deals with the issues highlighted above for tap water in Chile
b) it’s independently tested and certified
c) the manufacturer offers good warranties
EcoPro by TAPP Water is one of the best water filters for Chile with its simple to install and use design, affordable price, filtration of more than 100 contaminants and sustainability footprint. Find out more from our local partner.
Conclusion about tap water in Chile
- The tap water in Chile is generally considered safe to drink according to international standards
- The tap water in Santiago and much of Chile is hard (mineral rich) and disinfected with chlorine so may be considered to taste and smell bad
- If you live in an old building or have a water tank then this may cause local contamination including bacteria, copper, chlorine by-products and heavy metals
- For clean tasty tap water use a water filter such as TAPP water for Chile.
- Avoid bottled water as its expensive, inconvenient, not healthier and bad for the planet
Remember that it is always good to drink water regularly. Improving the taste and quality of drinking water doesn´t have to be hard.
Read more about how TAPP water compares to other water filters here.