Visitors and people living here often ask "Is Malta's tap water safe to drink?" and one would like to think there is an easy yes or no answer. But really it is more complicated because its not just safety that we need to keep in mind, the tap water in Malta is changing as the country develops and grows and the environment is also changing.
So here we will attempt to provide some perspectives as we see them currently.
Where does Malta's water supply come from?
This a good place to start as it helps us understand what the issues are. Malta has no lakes, rivers or natural reservoirs so even though we are surrounded by water in the beautiful Mediteranean sea we need to get our water from the environment as we find it.
Much of the tap water comes from desalinisation plants and Malta has three of these in Ghar Lapsi, Pembroke and Cirkewwa with a new plant opening up in Hondoq, Gozo in 2021. These plants process the water and add chlorine to ensure the safety of the water to EU Standards.
The desalination process itself is highly reliable for producing a high quality of water, however it is energy intensive and means that after processing both Chlorine and Lime (added to give desalinated water "taste and body") must be added to the water to keep it safe to drink in Malta.
The WSC produces over 18 million cubic metres of water for public consumption in Malta (2015 data)
Does the tap water in Malta meet all EU Standards
According to all the EU and WHO guidelines the tap water in Malta is safe to drink. The supply of tap water in Malta is subject to the Directive (EU) 2020/2184 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 which came into force in January 2021.
What are the risks of drinking tap water in Malta?
So although the tap water in Malta is safe to drinking according to all the EU and WHO guidelines there maybe reasons why you would want to consider carefully before doing so.
According to a recent study bout 27% of the tap water comes from groundwater In Malta and this is mixed with the desalinated water to improve the taste. However our groundwater is polluted by Nitrates from farming with Malta having some of the most polluted groundwater in Europe.
Chlorine is the most common addition to water for public consumption, however DPB which are "disinfection by products" are an issue. DPB's are a complex mixture of chemicals and the two main classes of DPBs are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) which are formed at high concentrations after chlorination.
THMs are associated with a causal relationship to bladder cancer and this is presented in this January 2020 study of European countries where Malta was ranked 2nd highest in Europe for the levels of THMs found in tap water.
This study concluded that the most common THM in Malta was bromoform and that Malta had the 2nd highest bladder cancer PAF of 17.9% in the EU. A PAF is the "contribution of a risk factor to a disease or a death is quantified using the population attributable fraction (PAF)"
I am not a scientist, just a water consumer trying to understand the risks. But it sure doesnt look good to me!
What does the tap water in Malta taste like?
The salt from the sea is removed in the process but some may still find the water slightly salty, however people often complain of the chlorine taste in the tap water in Malta more than the slight saltiness.
Some people will drink the water straight from the tap and it does depend a little on the area as water taste does differ. The Water Services Corporation in Malta does recognise the issue with taste and over many years of investment they are doing everything they can to improve it.
"However, surveys conducted by the WSC shows that the preferred source of drinking water is, by far, bottled water.
The main reason for this, as most of the WSC survey replies cite, is due to the taste of the water itself. A concern, which the WSC is already addressing by implementing a major EU-funded project to improve the taste of tap water. With €150 million in funding, the ‘Towards a Net Zero Impact Utility’ project is the largest ever Cohesion Policy financing for a project in Malta." Times of Malta
What are my options for water can I drink in Malta?
There are three options currently:
- Drinking water straight from the tap (u ejje - "oh come on..")
- Buying plastic bottled water
- Investing in a home water filter system
Drinking tap water in Malta
There are no doubts that some people drink the tap water in the Maltese islands, if you see any Facebook posts in various groups asking the question there will always be a minority of people showing up with comments that support drinking tap water in Malta.
However, it is not common, and the majority of people would disagree. It's a personal choice at the end of the day and made by weighing up your personal balance between health, safety and security for your family.
Infact it is geneal common knowledge that whilst you can drink the tap water in Malta, the Maltese people do not because of the taste and odour caused by the process that ensures the tap water is safe to drink!
Malta has made huge infrastructure investments since joining the EU and standards have certainly been raised over these past years with great results, however there is still some practical supply inconsistecies between some areas of Malta and even in a house with a mostly reliable water supply; there can be sudden and unexpected variances in water quality.
The plastic bottled water supply in Malta
Drinking water from plastic bottled water is very common in Malta. At the major supermarkets you can "earn" free plastic bottles of water by spending money and so it is a common site to see a family collecting multiple packets of plastic bottled water from the special plastic bottled water depot at a supermarket.
This does not make the change away from plastic bottled water in Malta an easy one, even though our numbers suggest that a family can be up to €248 a year better off by dropping plastic bottles water and using a water filter.
The water in Malta is actually quite alkaline with a healthy levels of minerals already in the water, in that way Malta's tap water is alreday like the bottled water that marketing suggests is healthy for you.
What are my options for a home water filter system?
It all depends on your level of investment and your view on maintenance costs, there are three systems you can use:
- Reverse osmoisis
- Water jugs
- Tap water filter
Check out How it works - for a comparison of all systems avaailable in Malta.
TAPP 2 reduces Chlorine by 95% or more based on 100s of tests carried out on tap water around the world. This improves the taste instantly for chlorinated water. In addition to this TAPP 2 removes all known bi-products from Chlorine (whereof some potentially cancerogenic such as THMs). Tappwater.mt