French News

Health in France

Quality of Drinking Water in France

Tuesday 01 September 2009

Tap water in France is unsafe to drink for those with a serious illness claims a French scientist.

According to a David Servan-Schreiber, a French scientist from the World Wildlife Fund, those suffering from a major illness should not drink tap water as he considered it was potentially harmful to them, primarily because of the presence of nitrates and pesticides in it.

The comments last month were widely reported in France, and played to widely held fears in the country about health risks from tap water. A large minority of French drink bottled water in preference to eau potable.

As a result, it provoked an unprecedented collaborative response from three leading French Academies of medicine, pharmacy and of water, who include amongst their number several Nobel Prize laureates. In a joint communiqué they stated that there was no evidence for such an assertion and accused the scientist of being an 'imposter'. They added:

'Water resources are exposed to a range of contaminants, but there is a rigorous regulatory framework in France (as elsewhere in the developed world) based on European standards, with regular controls by agencies, and treatment networks amongst the best in the world. This makes tap water one of the most monitored, most healthy, and most secure compounds we consume.

A breach of norms can sometimes occur, but these norms are not at the threshold of danger. Experts throughout the world agree that breach of the norms on a temporary basis does not present a major risk to health.'

The predilection for bottled water amongst the French is something of an historical legacy, for as late as the 1990s up to 13% of consumers in some areas of the country did not have drinking water that complied with quality standards.

However, in recent years (largely as a result of pressure from the EU, it has to be said) the French government has invested heavily in water treatment works, with a major programme of investment that is ongoing.

The system of quality control in France today is also rigorous, and carried out along the whole of the supply chain - at the point of capture, at treatment stations, and within the distribution network itself.

Not only do the water companies themselves do their own tests, but there are also regular independent tests carried by officials from the French Ministry of Health.

The frequency of these tests will depend on the size of the population served by a particular supply, and by the risks that may be present within an area.

The tests regularly show that over 99% of the supply complies with quality standards, which are set by the European Union.

Moreover, as the eminent scientists above have stated, a breach of the norms does not necessarily translate into a risk to public health.

If a breach of standards does arise, and the water is considered unsafe to drink, it is the responsibility of the local mayor to ensure that the inhabitants of the commune are informed. Anecdotal evidence suggests they can sometimes be a little tardive in doing so, but, thankfully, such incidents are rare.

In addition, the local council are required to inform all inhabitants each year of the result of the most recent tests. This information is included with the water bill. The results are also normally on the notice board at the mairie.

Test Results On-Line

The French government has now made available a website where you can obtain details of the quality of the water supply in your commune.

If you wish to seek reassurance on a more regular basis, then you can go to the website Eau Potable where you can find the results for your own commune.

You should click on the map of your region, and then on the drop down box of your department. Click on either the link to Consultez Les derniers résultats for the department, or on the name of your commune from the list that is presented to obtain the result of the annual test.

We have found the information is not 100% complete and the site does not always work in the most proficient manner. However, persist and you should get some local information from it!

You can read more in our Guide to Water and Drainage Services in France.

Related Article: French Water Companies Making ‘Abusive’ Profits.

For the latest in-depth analysis, subscribe to our news service at France Insider.

France Insider is a subscription-based offer which has replaced our previous free Newsletter.

Popular Articles