Rome, Italy is a must-see destination for anyone interested in taking a step back in time and learning about the history of the world as we know it. Rome (otherwise known as “The Eternal City”) was the epicenter of the ancient Western world, and a modern-day visit to the city is a true treat for anyone interested in history, architecture, art, and great Italian food.
But even though Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world — and despite its reputation in the ancient world for its world-class aqueducts during the heyday of the Roman Empire — you might find that the tap water today leaves something to be desired. In fact, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find restaurants and homeowners in Rome who offer you a glass of tap water instead of a bottled option. Let’s talk about tap water in Rome, Italy, and why you should probably filter it before drinking.
Key Takeaway: You should filter your Rome tap water before drinking.
- The city of Rome gets its water from nearby springs and aquifers, and it is closely monitored to ensure that it meets local and European water quality standards.
- Despite its adherence to water quality testing standards, old infrastructure and pollution from nearby manufacturing and agricultural practices can cause potential issues with lead and “forever chemical” contamination by the time it reaches your tap.
- To make extra sure that your drinking water is safe, run it through a LARQ filter system first to get rid of lead, PFAS/PFOA, and other chemicals that could potentially find their way into your water.
Issues with Rome, Italy’s Tap Water
In ancient times, the city of Rome was renowned for its advanced aqueduct system that delivered water to its many residents. Today, its water supply is managed by ACEA, the local water distribution company. The majority of the water is drawn from nearby springs and aquifers, then purified and distributed via seven large aqueducts throughout the city.
Because Rome’s tap water is closely monitored and tested to ensure it lines up with all European and Italian water standards, it is technically safe to drink and doesn’t have any current health violations. You can even find public water fountains throughout the entire city!
But still, you’ll probably find that most Roman locals prefer to drink bottled water rather than their tap. Here are some potential water quality issues that you might find on your trip to Rome that would suggest it’s better to use a filtered reusable water bottle rather than drinking straight from the faucet.
Potential lead contamination is one of the most important potential issues to be aware of when it comes to tap water quality, especially if you’re visiting Rome. After all, the use of lead metal to make water pipes is thought to have originated in Ancient Rome to begin with!
Lead is a toxic metal that has been linked to a variety of serious health concerns upon ingestion like neurotoxicity and reproductive harm. Unfortunately, this health hazard wasn’t discovered until much later, and so lead was used to build the water pipes that distributed drinking water to citizens. This is an especially interesting subject because there are several theories that widespread lead poisoning was a major contributing factor to the fall of Ancient Rome. While this theory is up for debate, researchers have estimated that Ancient Roman water contained more than 100 times more lead than local spring waters.
Luckily, those ancient aqueducts are no longer in use. But still, countries including Italy continued to build with lead pipes until the 20th century, when its long-lasting effects became more clear. The European Union as a whole has made it a priority to limit lead exposure, replacing old lead pipes and setting a limit of 10 µg/L for lead in drinking water. However, some older pipes may still remain in plumbing systems, especially in older buildings, which can then cause lead to potentially leech into the water flowing by. Because of this, it’s still a good idea to filter any tap water before you drink it, both in Rome and beyond.
PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are other, more modern issues that can severely affect your drinking water quality. These man-made chemicals are used in a variety of manufacturing processes. They have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” because they are highly stable and don’t degrade like organic substances. Instead, they stay in the environment and can even contaminate the drinking water supply.
PFAS contamination is a problem worldwide but is an especially big issue in busy urban areas. In Italy, this issue was recently highlighted in the Veneto Region, in which drinking water contamination was detected due to the drainage of a local manufacturing company in 2014. Researchers found potential links to this contamination and a slew of serious health concerns including all-cause mortality, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, myocardial infarction, and several kinds of cancer including breast, kidney, bladder, pancreatic cancer, and leukemia. Even more concerning: PFOS and PFOA have been found in blood samples of participants throughout Italy including Rome.
Finally, there have also been issues with chemical contamination in Rome’s tap water that pose a potential health threat. One of the most infamous examples of this in recent times was the discovery of high levels of arsenic in water throughout Lazio, the region that Rome is a part of, in 2013 likely due to large energy plants in the region. According to the World Health Organization, extended exposure to arsenic has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, skin lesions, and even some cancers. In fact, these high arsenic levels even led to the Italian government being taken to court by the EU.
Unfortunately, even though this issue was initially reported ten years ago, arsenic still remains an issue in Italy today. Just last year in 2022, it was reported that Upper Lazio’s city of Nepi was testing beyond the allowed limits for arsenic, leaving 600 citizens temporarily without safe drinking water.
The Bottom Line
By all official counts, the tap water in Rome should technically be safe to drink since it aligns with local and European water quality standards. However, it’s still a better idea to filter your water through a high-quality filter prior to drinking to further avoid ingestion of toxic and dangerous materials like lead, PFAS/PFOA, and chemicals. While you’re exploring the cobbled streets of Rome, make sure to bring along a LARQ Bottle Filtered, which removes lead, HAA5, PFAS/PFOA, BPA and more from the tap water. For locals, we’d highly recommend using a LARQ Pitcher PureVis for drinking water and for making espresso at home. The purification removes heavy metals, chlorine, and lead so your espresso ends up tasting way bette than if you used plain old tap water. It’s also better for the environment to eliminate as much single-use waste as possible.