A lot of people wonder whether drinking tap water is a safe business. Contaminated water can cause various health problems and even result in death. (Watch 'A Civil Action' if you haven't seen it yet.) So how safe is tap water in South Korea? Should you drink it or not?
My personal opinion is that the water you get out of a faucet might not be safe for drinking. Seoul City, for example, is doing everything it can to assure people that Seoul tap water (a.k.a. Arisu) is indeed clean and safe. Most Koreans would agree that the government is doing an excellent job of filtering water for its citizens. But if you ask Koreans whether they drink tap water or not, most of them would say the latter and not the former. Why the hypocrisy?
Well, the problem lies with pipes and tanks. The water stored in water purification plants is probably very, very clean. According to the Korean government, Seoul City's water, Arisu, passed all of 163 tests to meet the safety requirements. (Other cities are probably running the same rigorous tests.) But that may not be the water you get when you turn on the faucet.
The water you actually see came from long pipes and huge water storage tanks. Many Korean apartment buildings have rusty pipes. (Hence the brown water.) Water storage tanks could be full of bacteria. Yes, the tanks are cleaned at least twice a year (required by law for apartment complexes) but is that often enough? Not likely. Maybe that's why so many people including myself have witnessed brown water coming out of faucets. Some people say that tap water has an aftertaste and even smells funny. It is probably due to chlorine in the water for killing pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Or maybe the water tastes and smells bad because it is contaminated. I mean, who knows? Even if it is just chlorine, that might not be safe either. There are many studies which indicate that chlorinated water is likely to increase the chance of getting bladder cancer. Chlorine, after all, is not H2O.
So my view is that drinking tap water is somewhat safe but not safe enough to be assured. That is why most Koreans use water purifiers like the ones installed inside restaurants, banks, and post offices. A lot of people swear by bottled water, which is another alternative to tap water. Using a carbon-based water filter like a Brita water pitcher will eliminate contaminants and chlorine from tap water and is likely to be cost-effective and convenient. The very least you can do is boil water before drinking it out of the tap. It's your call. But remember, when you go to Rome...