Sweetened Water: Why Your Tap Water Might Start Tasting Like Soda


Chemicals that sweeten our diet soda and foods could be souring our environment– and particularly our water. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology realized that artificial sweeteners aren’t being taken out of our water during wastewater treatment, meaning they’re appearing in rivers, lakes, and even our house tap water.

Researchers took water samples from 10 separate wastewater treatment plants as well as four rivers and nine lakes before testing them for appearance of four artificial sweeteners. The sweeteners tested were acesulfame K (sold under the name Sunett), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (in Sweet’N Low), and cyclamate (which is banned in the U.S. despite still being used in Europe). Acesulfame K was the most prevalent, showing up in a whopping 65 percent of water samples. Along with sucralose, it was found in treated wastewater in amounts identical to those seen in untreated wastewater. The scientists also evaluated wastewater sludge to find out if those same sweetener levels decreased after seven hours, which they didn’t. Lastly, the researchers took samples of tap water that is sourced from the groundwater sources evaluated, and realized acesulfame was sitting in tap water, too.

Artificial sweeteners, pharmaceuticals, and personal-care product chemicals have been witnessed in American waterways, as the synthetic stuff we deal with daily don’t just disappear when we drink diet soda or flush a toilet. Worse still, we don’t know the precise impact these pseudosugars might have on our waters, although a former study about sucralose in rivers and lakes indicates that it could disrupt some organisms’ feeding habits. Artificial sweeteners also aren’t included in evaluations used by water filter manufacturers– so you might have to deal with the fact that even filtered tap water could start tasting sweeter.

Here are two ways you can decrease your exposure to chemical sweeteners:

Go natural

Instead of using artificial sweeteners to lower your calorie intake, use fruits and herbs to concoct your own “diet soda.” Also, make sure the stuff you drink is mostly water, as brewed teas and low-fat dairy products should be your secondary options.

Read food labels

Artificial sweeteners are found in most drinks and even most foods. Look out for acesulfame K, saccharin, and sucralose. Aspartame is another artificial sweetener often used in diet sodas, though it wasn’t examined in this study because it biodegrades quickly into the environment.


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Jaime González

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