The dangers (and politics) of Hungarian drinking water

After the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information concerning the questionable quality of Hungarian drinking water, the Orbán government did what they do best: they denied the problem and started a propaganda campaign to discredit the CDC. (Read here.)

The CDC recommendation is clear. In a health advisory for travelers to Hungary they do not recommend drinking tap or well water, or consuming ice or drinks made with tap or well water. Instead it is safe to drink bottled water that is sealed and disinfected, ice made with bottled or disinfected water, carbonated drinks, hot coffee or tea. (Read here the CDC recommendations.)

Hungary’s President János Áder at the 2016 Budapest Water Summit. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade informed CDC that claims regarding the quality of drinking water “are completely without foundation” and the report is “completely erroneous and misleading.” Embassy officials in Washington consulted with “competent officers of the CDC” and learned that the recommendations are based on the UN’s Human Development Index. According to Hungary none of those parameters relate to the quality of drinking water. Furthermore Hungary regularly monitors tap water and the general adequacy rate was 97.7% in 2015. This is all from Hungarian sources; the CDC has not commented on the report or confirmed the meeting with the Hungarians.

I don’t know what “general adequacy” means but Budapest still have lots of old buildings with lead pipes. Hungarian weekly HVG just published a long article about the possible lead contamination in the drinking water. (Read here in Hungarian.)

Hungary has handled the CDC response poorly. It doesn’t not show diplomatic sophistication to label the US agency’s report “misleading,” “without foundation” and “completely erroneous.”

Orbán mega-loyalist, UN Ambassador Katalin Bogyay sent out a tweet – Tap water’s quality in Hungary is excellent, actually very good to drink! Excellent? Even government sources admit that “further improvement of the quality of drinking water” requires attention in “a few localities.” By the way, Ms. Bogyay spends most of her time in New York, where she is a diplomat, and in London, where her family lives. It seems to me that her tweet is the one “misleading” and “without foundation.”

Amb. Katalin Bogyay’s tweet

The question is: who do you believe regarding tap water safety in Hungary? To the CDC advisory or Hungarian politicians?

For me the answer is obvious; I will stick to bottled water in Hungary.

György Lázár


  1. The CDC’s recommendations are general on every items.
    It does NOT state that the potable water in Hungary may not be safe to drink. It only recomend drink what you can asumme to be safe.
    As matter of fact, I’d assume, since Hungary is a former Szoviet satelite country, the water purification as was used in the old Szoviet Union is even more advanced, or at least was back in the hay-day of the Szoviet system , than here in the US today.
    As the Szoviets used “oxygenation” to purify potable water, instead of the old American way, that is Chlorination and Flouridation.

    When you travel in Mexico or central and south America, Africa, etc. you better be cautious of what you drink,especially out in the country. Where there is no purification of local drinking water.
    Budapest obtains its drinking water from deep wells, while many other European cities take their drinking water out of rivers. While also dump their sewer-effuent to the same river down-stream.

  2. Drinking water quality is determined ,first by visual appearance.
    Does the water looks clean, any sediments in it, color or any turbidity.
    Than by taste. The mineral and added chemical contaminants alter taste.
    And the most important is the biological contamination of the water.
    For that in US the presence of E-coli bacteria is measured.
    In Europe, the presence of Streptacous bacteria contamination considered and tested daily.
    Chemical constituency tested at regular interwalls, but not daily. That is what will tell you is how nourishing your water may be.
    Mineral constituant in some area are poor even in well waters. In waters obtained from river, and reservoirs have no mineral contents. While minerals are essential to human health.
    That is why it is recommended by all healthcare professionals to take vitamin and mineral suppliments dailly.

  3. I’m in Hungary now and was unaware of the CDC report. As usual I drink mineral water–but also coffee, tea, and lemonade made with tap water. The CDC report was not really specific enough for me to stop my usual practIces. And too, the Hungarian government response was over the top. Many of us live with old lead pipes wherever we live.

  4. I live in hungary and i have never met anybody I knew complaining about the quality of tap water. There could be isolated cases of water problems here and there but i drink tap water, other people i know also drink it without any fear.
    Hungary has a lot of serious problems. Water is not one of those.

  5. Any more negative comments Mr. Lazar?

  6. In Szeged the water is excellent.

  7. One is better off to assume that whatever the Orban regime states, the opposite is true. Saves checking effort/time.

    A couple of indications:
    – Hungary is a flat country, no mountain streams.
    – Mostly cultivated land, fertilizer effluent danger.
    – Many areas e.g. next to west Budapest boundary the underground water is unsuitable due to hign nitrate contents.
    – In Hun environmental regulations are routinely flouted or ignored by state and local authorities (often unable to finance remedial solutions).
    – Who cares here about the dupes, who’s health may suffer years later (see the abismal health stats).

  8. With all due respect to the CDC, it is in the US that people died after drinking the water, not in Hungary. My guess is that the CDC is pursuing an angle here. Perhaps privatization of some utilities, where some US companies could get in on it? And this “pro-Hungary” author seems very willing to help with this campaign.

  9. This appeared in the HFP, the English language , where rather the foreigners may read it
    So is the goal to discourage them to travel to Hungary, just in case.
    Wonder, is the goal to reduce the flow of tourists to Hungary?
    That could hurt the government in some minor way, beside the tourist industry.
    Since the CDC warning was very general.
    The potable water has been safe in Budapest since the middle ages.
    Never had a water-born epidemic there !

  10. Avatar Reality Check says:

    “Although the quality of most potable water supplied is good the quality of 30% of public potable water supply does not fill EU requirements.”

    “According to the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ), over a million Hungarians drink water containing contaminants that increase the risk of serious illness and disease. An estimated 300 Hungarians die each year as a result of consuming arsenic-contaminated groundwater.” 2014 report.

    I agree with Lazar. Why trust the Hungrian authorities to provide accurate information on the quality of drinking water. I always drink bottled water.

  11. My 2 sisters & I just returned from 9 days in Hungary. We did not know about the CDC report so we drank iced tea, lemonade & water all with ice. We are in the “elderly” age range & not one of us experienced a problem of any kind. We traveled & ate in many areas of the country besides Budapest including Gyor, Lake Balaton,
    Veszprem, Bakonyszentlaszlo, Rabapatona & Mezoors. We plan on returning next summer & would have no problem drinking the water

    • Avatar Reality Check says:

      Some of the issues that would arise would be from longer term exposure, like arsenic poisoning. In addition, as the links I posted indicate, the issues impact particular communities, and not Hungary as a whole. So, chances are that most people will not have an issue.

      It would be nice if the Hungarian government would be more forthcoming about which communities are at risk. That way people could have more fine-grained information, instead of the broad alert issued by the CDC. Without such information, it is prudent to drink bottled water.

    • Margie,

      You perfectly well drink water almost anywhere in Hungary, for a couple of weeks. The problem with nitrates, arsenic and heavy metals is that they accumulate in the body and act as poison in the longer term.

      Actually the biggest problem is not with the water – there are technical solutions, but with the governments which deny its existence, i.e. don’t act to remedy the problems.

      There have been also a couple of ugly cases where (Fidesz) mayors shut off public water taps in the summer heat to deny the free and ONLY source or water to poor gypsy communities.

  12. More Hungary bashing Mr. Lazar?
    Tap water in Hungary is potable by any World standards. Full stop. The tap water in one or two remote villages experience temporary problems may be the only possible exception. Tap water in Hungary does not come from rivers or shallow wells that may contain nitrates, hormones and other pollution. Tap water in Hungary does not include recycled sewage. Unlike Mr Lazar’s tap water, tap water in Hungary does not contain Fluoride, so it hasn’t dumbed its consumers down or turn them into docile sheeple.

    • Avatar Reality Check says:

      Please read my links above. Your statement that “Tap water in Hungary is potable by any World standards” is not true. In parts of Hungary it does not meet EU standards.

    • Andrew & co

      This is Orban/Fisesz bashing, if at all, not Hungary. And the right thing to do for anyone who loves the country and wants to help it get read of Orban’s bloodsucking mafia.

  13. Avatar Robert Morrison says:

    Lázár Gyurka!
    I would join in to your last sentence: “For me the answer is obvious; I will stick to bottled water in Hungary”
    My suggestion is why you not stick to your belowed USA and stick up both the CDC’s warning and a bottle of water. You are such a looser hypocrate that is bordering on insanity. Just stay “home” and don’t bother to spend your last presious days in that “deplorable” Hungary where for you even sh…t is tastless.

  14. Avatar Robert Morrison says:

    Lázár Gyurka!
    One more thing … can you see that article by article your rating goes down? By now majority of readers recognized that you are a bored old man with no purpose of life so you got into this Hungary bashing habit. Honestly, I look for your writings to have my daily laugh. You became the clown of this blog, while other writers are exploring real issues.
    This is the second time in as many months you are drawn into water. Be sure you have you tena underwear handy.

  15. Avatar Robert Morrison says:

    Where was the CDC on this one Gyurka? (I know it is easier to mess around in the affairs of a foreign country than in your own.)

    “Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to “the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances.” In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed, including industrial complexes, landfills and farms laden with pesticides and fertilizer.

    Since the water wasn’t properly treated, lead from aging service lines to homes began leaching into the Flint water supply after the city tapped into the Flint River as its main water source. Health effects of lead exposure in children include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty.”

    Source: CNN

  16. Avatar Sandor Kerekes says:

    I have the opportunity to consume the water in two localities: Budapest and Nagymaros. Both are providing excellent water. But I also know that the water in the vicinity of Pécs and the surrounding villages the water is contaminated with arsenic. The authorities have spent years trying to improve the water, but in wain. So the picture is somewhat mixed.

    • Quite right.
      There are also problems with the (e.g. Budapest) old water system, which needs replacement in many parts.
      These are local problems, but they have to be recognized and addressed, not denied.
      See my comment to Margie above.

  17. Avatar Robert Morrison says:

    Lázár Gyurka!
    Any reply to the overwhelming condemnation of your hostile article? Woult it be possible to learn the reason behind your hatered for Hungary? It doesn’t seem to be a genuine political view, rather a deep rooted bitterness. Is it perhaps you feel that your betraying of the Country that provided you with the opportunity to improve yourself backfired? Sour grape effect? Your pals in Hungary have a more meaningful and happier life?

  18. Avatar Robert Morrison says:

    @ Observer
    Let me understand your thoughts;
    so in your opinion if the OV government is gone it takes with it all the old led pipes and out of date water refining equipment and the liberal government (my guess is that this is your preference) will provide healthy water to the whole country at every tap the day after they are installed.
    Great Utopia.
    I drank tap water in Budapest XIII. th district 1929 built house for 70 years and I still have clearer mind then you will ever have. No medication at all and active. I guess I am the nightmare of left lib Hungary/OV/Fidesz bashers.
    Ps. I do not like OV, never voted Fidesz but I cannot tolerate ignorante “kibic” uninformed but know it all”advisers”.

    • Robert M

      Active – yes, clear mind – not so sure, since you’ve completely misunderstood my pretty straightforward thoughts on govs denying a problem.
      And FYI, since you haven’t got it yet, I live in H and follow the national tragedy pretty closely.

      Don’t worry about being anyone’s nightmare here, but watch it at home.

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