Is the tap water in Belgium safe to drink? What are the potential issues with the tap water in Brussels? Why does the tap water taste bad? What is the best water filter for Belgium? Why do people drink so much bottled water?
In this article we will answer all your questions about tap water in Brussels, Flander and Wallonia. We will also try to answer the question about why people consume so much bottled water.
Where does the tap water in Belgium come from?
65% produced from groundwater, often distributed without prior treatment, and 35% from surface water, more expensive to produce.
Brussels receives its water from springs, groundwater and the Maas River (known in French as Meuse), all located in the Walloon region. Modave in the Hoyoux valley, located more than 100 km Southwest of Brussels, produces the remaining 20% of the capital's water supply from galleries in the hills surrounding the valley.
The second major water resource for Wallonia and Flander is the Scheldt (known in French as Escaut) that take their source in France and flow into the sea in the Netherlands. There are also a considerable amount of aquifers in Wallonia. Belgium does not face water stress, despite its high density of population.
How is the water treated in Belgium?
According to the 2006 Constitution of Belgium Article 23 everyone has the "right to an adequate water supply, sufficient in quality and quantity". The tap water is treated and distributed by more than 62 water supply utilities, including 2 regional, 30 inter-municipal and 30 municipal utilities.
Belgian tap water must meet the quality requirements of the World Health Organization (WHO), EU, the Belgian government and that of the regional authorities. There are at least 48 requirements with regard to microbiological, chemical and physical quality that are constantly monitored. Almost all of Belgium uses chlorine as disinfection to keep the tap water safe from pathogens.
Nevertheless, a high rate of leakage from pipes in Belgium (50%, second after Bulgaria and twice as much as the European average) was also identified by the Commission as a health issue. In 2015, the University of Sheffield published a study which is the first to prove beyond a doubt that contaminants can enter pipes through leaks and be transported throughout the network. Source: https://www.vrt.be
Can I drink the tap water in Belgium?
"The idea that you drink the same water as the one you flush the toilet with, hits many Belgians against the chest,"- Tim Smits, professor of Marketing Communication at KU Leuven.
The fear of the so-called impure tap water is almost an urban legend in Belgium. People are afraid that it contains drugs and medicine residues. Or hormones, such as estrogen from the pill.
But generally the tap water throughout the Brussels, Flander and Wallonia regions is safe to drink based on EU standards. More specifically, according to the Belgian consumer organisation tap water is safe to drink based on testing of water across 40 locations in Belgium.
To find the water quality for your location in Belgium there are 3 websites:
- Flanders / Flemish region: VMM overlooks the water quality for the region
- Wallon region: Aquawal manages the water for the whole region
- Brussels Region: Vivaqua provides the tap water to Brussels and 50 other municipalities in Belgium)
What are the potential issues with drinking water in Belgium?
In 2018 the European Commission’s proposal for a revision of the Drinking Water Directive caused an outcry in the Belgian press. Its impact assessment singled out Belgium as one of the worst performers, with 850,000 people or 8% of the population “at potential health risk” from drinking tap water. “Misleading” screamed every water management authority in the country. Who’s telling the truth?
Generally the water quality meets the regulatory requirements set by the EU. But nitrates and THMs are close to or just above the limit in many cities throughout the country.
While nitrate is not harmful in itself, it can convert to nitrite. Babies under 6 months of age have low stomach acid production, which means they form more nitrite in their body. Nitrite also binds better in babies to proteins that ensure oxygen transport. The result can be an oxygen deficiency. This is particular problematic for bottled-fed infants once the nitrate concentration is above 50mg/l, according to the World Health Organisation. In Wallonia, more than 99% of drinking water complies with the 50mg/l standard. In Flanders this is not the case.
THMs are by-products from chlorine that is linked to bladder cancer and has caused 7000+ cases per year in Europe.
Does Belgian tap water cause kidney stones?
There has been a persistent rumour that Belgian tap water causes Kidney Stones. Professor Norbert Lameire, a world renowned nephrologist at the University of Gent and an expert in kidney stones strongly refuted this myth in a recent article. Prof Lameire says that not only does ‘hard’ tap water in Belgium NOT cause kidney stones, but it actually prevents them. So there you go. Drink more tap water!
What about bottled water in Belgium?
An average Belgian drinks about 150 liters of bottled water per year. The Belgian is therefore one of the largest drinkers of bottled water in the world. In a 2010 study, the Belgian was the fourth largest drinkers of bottled water in the world with 148 liters per person, after Mexico, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
66 percent of Flemish people drink bottled water at least half the time at home. In Flanders, one and a half billion plastic bottles are sold every year. That's 130 liters of bottled water per person per year. Really, in the Netherlands they do it by one fifth.
But what does the consumption of all that bottled water do to our environment? Even though Belgians generally do a good job recycling it doesn't really help. The damage is already done in terms of CO2 footprint of plastic bottles. Glass bottles are actually worse.
To add to this bottled water is not healthier than tap water. In many cases it is even healthier than mineral water from bottles you buy in the shop, as this often contains microplastics. That's according to research carried out by the consumers' organisation Test-Aankoop. Furthermore a survey of bottled water by Test-Achats in 2013 found that of the 36 brands examined, five are unsuitable for children under 7 years of age due to a high fluorine content.
What is the best water filter for Belgium?
Are you convinced that it's time to move away from bottled water? 34% of Belgians that consume tap water at home claim to filter their tap water before drinking it.
When looking for a water filter for Belgium your main considerations should be
- Great tasting tap water (removes chlorine and other poor tasting chemicals)
- Proven to reduce contaminants such as nitrates and chlorine by-products (THMs)
- Fit for purpose for your household in terms of cost and volume
Based on 1000s of reviews TAPP 2 consistently scores as the top water filter for Belgium. It's affordable, simple to install and use, sustainable and most importantly delivers great tasting clean tap water.
Summary of tap water in Belgium
- Despite its poor reputation tap water in Belgium is generally safe to drink but may not taste great
- Common tap water contaminants may include nitrates and chlorine by-products (THMs)
- If you don't like the taste or worry about contaminants in the tap water then get an affordable high quality water filter such as TAPP 2
- Avoid bottled water if you can. It's expensive, not necessarily better and bad fort the planet
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