It's ironic that people so afraid of a polluted environment that they won't drink tap water are the same people directly responsible for polluting the environment. OK, they're not big-industry muckety-mucks who drain the contents of oil tankers into Prince William Sound. But they aren't guiltless either.

Who are they? They're the millions of Americans who have decided they'll drink from individual-serving plastic bottles containing garden-variety H2O - water.

Health conscious and proud of it, these people would rather litter landfills with empty plastic containers than risk the oh-so-scary consequences of filling a glass with ordinary tap water.

Problem is, it doesn't take long before that ship springs a leak.

It was almost 30 years ago that the U.S. government passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is enforced by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has reported that drinking water is safe and that the United States has some of the most reliable water systems in the world.

Not convinced? Then let's turn our attention to another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water. The FDA has established water quality requirements similar to those established by the EPA for public water supplies.

What that means is that neither bottle water nor public water supplies are required to be 100 percent pure, but both are regulated - by the EPA and FDA - to meet all state and federal water-quality standards.

There's a sense in today's paranoid world that water was safer 30 years ago. But the truth is these higher federal standards and today's technology provide a far better picture of water content than ever before. Municipal water systems are far more advanced and home plumbing is being installed with human health in mind.

But the flow of individual plastic water bottles into landfills continues to swell, urged onward by the misguided belief that we're somehow healthier by twisting bottle tops.

The environmental cost is great. More than 77 million plastic water bottles were disposed of in Oregon in 2002. That's up from 31 million in 1998.

Sure, sometimes convenience outweighs the negatives. Individual bottles come in handy in plenty of appropriate times. But still, we all owe it to our environment to tread a little more lightly. A little more tap water and re-using those plastic water bottles would be good place to start.

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