Tap water: the most controlled food product in France

Tap water: origin and sources of pollution

Providing good quality water is a public health issue. Today, 67% of French people drink tap water every day. It is essential to the proper functioning of the human body, which explains the importance of its availability and quality.

Reading time : 7 minutes


Where does the water we drink come from?
Tap water, one of the most controlled elements
What are the sources of water pollution?
Tap water: governed by numerous regulations
Consequences on the health of the populations?
Tap water or bottled water?
How can I find out about water quality?

Where does the water we drink come from?

Drinking water is collected either :

  • From the subsoil, i.e. the water tables of reservoirs and natural underground passages (fed by rainwater runoff)
  • On the surface (river, lake)

It is first sent to plants where it is filtered several times before going through several purification cycles. It’s disinfected to eliminate all micro-contaminants (pesticides, nitrates, drugs, etc.) and then chlorinated to prevent the appearance of new bacteria. The water towers of the municipalities then take over, where the water is stored and then distributed through the pipes.

Tap water, one of the most controlled elements


The monitoring of water sanitation includes both the monitoring carried out by the producers and distributors of water and a sanitary control implemented by the Regional Health Agencies (Agence Régionale de Santé – ARS – in France).

In accordance with the European Directive 98/83/EC on the quality of water intended for human consumption and the Public Health Code, the control programs implemented by the Regional Health Agencies cover microbiological, physical, chemical and radiological aspects in order to ensure that the water meets the regulatory requirements and is not harmful to the health of consumers.

A program of water sampling and analysis is carried out by independent laboratories approved by the Ministry of Health and retained by the Regional Health Agencies.

Tap water is, in France, an extremely monitored product

What are the sources of water pollution?

Water pollution is one of the main causes of environmental pollution along with air pollution. The quality and availability of the water resource is undoubtedly one of the major issues of our century. It can be microbiological (bacterial, vital or parasitic) or chemical. They are at the origin of different sources:

Domestic pollution

It is linked to wastewater discharges. This can come from wastewater from daily water use (toilets, kitchen, shower) or from household products loaded with chemical pollutants harmful to the environment.

Industrial pollution

Industry generates different types of pollution depending on the sector of activity. Chemicals discharges can be hydrocarbons or PCBs discharged by industries or water discharged by factories

Agricultural pollution

Agricultural pollution is mainly caused by pesticides and fertilizers which generate chemical or bacteriological pollution if massive use of natural fertilizers is made. They then penetrate the soil and reach the groundwater.

Pollution linked to maritime transport

Maritime transport can be the source of chemical pollution. They are often caused by oil discharges, voluntary or not, directly into the ocean. Oil spills are the most striking example.

Tap water: governed by numerous regulations

The production and distribution of drinking water are governed by strict regulations that set water quality standards necessary for consumption in order to provide quality water without risks for all (immediate or long-term, real or potential), as well as water that is pleasant to drink (clear, odorless, balanced in mineral salts).

For water to be “fit for human consumption”, it must meet nearly 70 quality criteria before ending up in the pipes:

  • Physico-chemical parameters: pH, temperature, conductivity, water hardness;
  • Organoleptic parameters: color, taste and smell;
  • Microbiological parameters: guarantee that the water does not contain any pathogenic germs (virus, bacteria, parasites);
  • Parameters related to undesirale substances: presence of nitrates, fluorine, nitrites, pesticides;
  • Parameters related to toxic substances: presence of micropolluants (cyanide, arsenic, nickel, sélénium…)

Consequences on the health of the populations?

As seen previously, the quality standards for drinking water are very strict. Exceedances of quality standards are possible but without any real risk for health.

« Short-term exceedances of the guideline values do not necessarily mean that the water is unfit for consumption.».
World Health Organization (WHO)

In some areas, tap water may be polluted for a few days a year. (See the cities with polluted drinking water in 2021 here.)

In this case, it is possible to go as far as the interruption of the distribution and the prohibition to drink the water until further notice. In this situation, the population is warned.

Tap water or bottled water

For daily and regular use, tap water is largely satisfactory following the numerous controls carried out. Tap water has several advantages:

🌏 From an environmental point of view

According to a study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, bottled water has an environmental impact 3500 times greater than tap water. In fact, about 180,000 tons of plastic bottles are produced each year in France, that is about 3 kilos per person per year.

Plastic can only be recycled 2 or 3 times maximum and then it becomes a waste. Glass bottles, if they are single use, are not better for the environment either.

💰 From an economic point of view

Bottled water is 100 to 300 times more expensive per liter than tap water! Tap water is on average 0.3 cents per liter while bottled water is on average 30 cents per liter.

💙 From a human health perspective.

It’is important to know that there are far fewer plastic micropollutants found in tap water than in water from plastic bottles. To avoid overconsumption of these pollutants it’s therefore preferable to consume tap water.

The consumption of tap water implies to take into account the type of piping. Indeed, buildings built before 1948 are likely to have lead pipes – which can then be found in the water. Only in this case (lead concentration > 10 µg/l), tap water is not recommended for children and a filtration system is recommended.

How can I find out about the quality of my tap water?

With Meersens solutions, ensure the safety of your communities and limit your impact by monitoring water quality and measuring its pollutants. (Bacteria, pesticides, radioactivity, nitrates, water hardness).

To find out about water quality, you can also visit the Ministry of Health website.

Meersens, analyze the quality of your environment

Meersens is a positive impact environmental health company, mobilized to create a sustainable future, enabling environmental risk mitigation and positively contributing to the health and well-being of stakeholders – by providing customized environmental monitoring and prevention.

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Solution Meersens - Santé environnementale

Meersens est une entreprise à impact positif dans le domaine de la santé environnementale, mobilisée pour créer un avenir durable, permettant d’atténuer les risques environnementaux et de contribuer positivement à la santé et au bien-être des parties prenantes – en offrant une surveillance et une prévention environnementales personnalisées.

Meersens offre une vision et une surveillance multi-polluants à 360°, en temps réel, historique et prédictive, pour n’importe quel lieu, avec une grande précision, vous permettant d’atténuer les risques et de prendre de meilleures décisions.

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