Image courtesy of Men's Health

If you still pause at a waiter's first question -- "Is tap water okay?" -- you're not alone. Compared to the previous year, fewer Americans made the switch from bottled to tap water in 2010, according to the most recent data on the topic in a Harris Interactive Poll.

Most of the time -- unless you're one of the 300,000 people in West Virginia this week who found out their water supply had been contaminated by a chemical spill -- tap water is just as safe as bottled water, says Mae Wu, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council who also works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The next time you're thirsty, reach for these 10 surprising water alternatives.

Thanks to the rigorous standards imposed on tap water by public health organizations, bottled water is not necessarily any safer or cleaner than tap under normal circumstances. And the stuff out of the faucet comes without the added cost and waste buildup associated with bottled water, Wu says. In fact, one report from the non-profit Environmental Working Groupfound contamination levels in store-bought water that violated public water safety standards.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't drink Poland Springs. Despite those few anecdotal reports, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations governing the quality of bottled water are "at least as stringent" as the EPA standards for tap water, explains Stephen Edberg, Ph.D., a professor of chemical engineering at Yale University. (It's time to rethink your relationship with water. Discover the 4 Surprising Secrets About Bottled Water.)

But bottles can be costly -- for you and the environment -- so here are three ways to make sure your tap water is up to par.

Consider your zip code

If you live in a rural farming community, there's a greater likelihood of contamination from pesticide runoff, Wu explains. To protect yourself, ask your local water authority to come test your water -- a service they'll likely perform for free, she says. The EPA's website also offers water-monitoring resources. Big-city dwellers, you're in luck: Wu says New York and San Francisco, among many other metropolises, have some of the cleanest water in the country.

Find out where your tap draws from

If your water is from a private well -- which isn't regulated -- you could be at risk for chlorine and other volatile organic chemicals, Wu says. Or, if your home was built before the 1970s, it may house older lead-lined pipes, which could also throw off your water. In both cases, have your H2O tested, Wu advises. (If you own your home, you likely know where you water comes from. If you rent, ask your landlord.) Pick up Drink This, Not That! to discover the healthiest, tastiest drinks in the world.

Consider a filter

If your water turns out to be contaminated, Wu says a filter from makers like ZeroWater or Brita will safeguard your supply for a fraction of the cost of bottled options. Your water report will highlight potential health risks, which -- for the most part -- can be fixed with a filter. Shop for one that specifically targets the contaminants in your H2O, she suggests. All filter makers list the contaminants their products remove. Remember, many bottled waters -- Dasani and Aquafina, for example -- are just filtered tap water. By filtering it yourself, you're saving money, Wu says.

Source: EPA's Drinking Water Standards, ZeroWater, Brita

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