Spain’s beautiful coastal waterfront, Barcelona, is world-renowned for its rich history, delicious food, stunning architecture, and gorgeous sandy beaches. But despite the many splendors of this Mediterranean city, you might also find that drinking water straight from the tap when you’re in need of hydration leaves a pretty unpleasant taste in your mouth. You might also notice that restaurants and hotels are more likely to offer you bottled water rather than the water from their taps. So what’s really going on with the tap water in Barcelona – and is it safe to drink?
Is tap water in Barcelona safe to drink?
According to the companies and agencies that regulate the public water supply, Barcelona’s tap water is drinkable … mostly. It’s in accordance with both WHO and EU water standards, and Spain’s own governmental sanitation agency that oversees tap water, the Ministerio de Sanidad, says that Spanish tap water is 99.5% safe to drink.
Most of the tap water in Barcelona comes from the nearby Llobregat River and is treated by Aigües de Barcelona (AgBar, for short), a private water company. Barcelona also has one of the most advanced water treatment plants in Europe, the estacion de tratamiento de agua potable (or ETAP), which is located in San Joan Despi, which filters huge amounts of water to make it safe for public consumption.
But even though tap water in Barcelona is so highly regulated and has been declared mostly safe to drink by its agencies, many people in the city still choose to drink bottled mineral water instead. And what’s going on with that remaining 0.5% of water that isn’t safe to drink according to the Ministerio de Sanidad?
Why does Barcelona tap water taste so bad?
While safe to drink according to regulation standards, the taste of Barcelona’s tap water is a major deciding factor for many locals choosing bottled water instead. The Llobregat River passes through a very salty area near the town of Súria, so the water becomes “hard” from picking up so many minerals during its passage. The taste can vary throughout the city since some of the water also comes from the River Ter, which is less mineralized. It’s not a health risk, but it can be a difficult flavor to get used to.
In addition to all those minerals and sediment, Barcelona’s drinking water is also treated with chlorine. This process helps sanitize the water and kills off potential pathogens, but it’s also thought to contribute to the less-than-delicious taste of water when it comes straight from the tap.
Potential risks of drinking Barcelona tap water
Beyond taste, there are also some other potential concerns that might have you thinking twice before drinking your tap water without filtering first.
Chlorine is a common chemical that is used to treat tap water and make it safe for drinking. Unfortunately, it can form an unwanted byproduct when it mixes with organic matter: trihalomethanes, or THM for short. Long-term THM exposure has been linked to serious health issues like bladder cancer.
Unfortunately, the Spanish water supply is especially at risk of unwanted THMs, especially when compared to the rest of the EU. One study that sought to evaluate the risk of THM exposure in Barcelona’s water supply found that roughly 3% of new annual bladder cancer cases are attributable to THM exposure from Barcelona’s current drinking water supply! But the same study also concluded that the impact of using bottled water instead of tap water for drinking is not a great alternative, because it means sacrificing sustainability and contributing to plastic pollution.
Ultimately, the better answer for both your health and for the environment is to filter your tap water before drinking it to remove THM and other contaminants.
Lead contamination is one of the most pressing issues plaguing water security around the world. This toxic metal has historically been used to build water pipes, and as water passes through, the metal from those lead pipes can leach into the water. Lead contamination has been linked to a variety of health issues and is an especially pressing concern for children since even small amounts of lead can affect brain development and cause behavioral changes. Unfortunately, your body has no way of getting rid of this toxic metal, so it can just accumulate in your system. Even more unfortunately, there is no amount of exposure to this toxic metal that is known to be safe.
Because of the seriousness of lead exposure, the current EU legislation has its maximum lead levels set at 10 micrograms/L. While lead has long been banned as a pipe-building material, and lead is closely monitored in the water supply, the issue remains that there are still an estimated 25% of buildings in Europe that still have lead pipes from before the ban. In Spain, a survey of buildings (especially those built prior to the 1980s) was conducted between 2004-2014 and found that roughly 7% of the buildings still showed levels of lead that exceeded the 10 micrograms/L limit.
Finally, there’s the issue of pollution to contend with. The Mediterranean Sea is plagued with plastic pollution – in fact, it’s estimated to collect 730 tons of plastic waste every single day. With that pollution comes microplastics, or tiny plastic particles that are broken down from larger plastic waste. While we still don’t fully understand the long-term effects that microplastics can have on our bodies once ingested, studies have found that they can potentially cause oxidative stress, act as carcinogens, and expose you to other toxic chemicals used in the production of the original plastic product.
In a study that aimed to examine the number of microplastics present along the Llobregat River Basin, researchers found microplastics were present in 5 out of 7 different surveyed areas along Barcelona’s primary water supply. Many of those potentially hazardous microplastics are eliminated in the filtration and purification processes before the water hits your tap. But still, the scary fact remains that microplastics have been found in about 72% of the tap water in Europe!
How to ensure safe drinking water in Barcelona
Barcelona residents are more likely to reach for bottled water as an alternative to drinking their less-than-delicious tap water, but this further contributes to the environmental issues that plague the water in the first place. So instead, do the better thing for your health and for the environment and filter your tap water!
Water filtration systems like LARQ’s Bottle Filtered and LARQ’s Pitcher PureVis can eliminate contaminants like lead, chlorine, and particulates so that you are left with clean, delicious water in Barcelona, the rest of the EU, and beyond. While the LARQ Bottle Filtered offers a portable filtration solution for great-tasting water, the Pitcher offers two-stages: Nano Zero filtration and UV-C LED eradication of bacteria and viruses such as E.Coli.