by Karen Kempf
How bottled water has grown in popularity, and why you should not buy it.
It’s an amazing fad, one of the most successful advertising hypes in recent history. Advertising for bottled water suggests that drinking water in plastic can make you thin, sexy, healthy, affluent, and environmentally responsible. Water bottles have become a fashion accessory. These ideas have a source, and it’s not a mountain spring. Giant multinational companies like Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi are making a fortune on bottled water. In the U.S. a sip of bottled water costs on average 1,000 times a sip of water from the tap. But it’s not just about the money.
In Michigan, Nestle received $9.6 million in tax breaks to site their Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Mecosta County. Yet in Detroit more than 20,000 families have had their water shut off because of inability to pay their water bills when the state refused to provide a subsidy. How do such policies measure up to the United Nations declaration "The human right to drinking water is fundamental to life and health"?
Many people think bottled water is safer than tap water. There is no such guarantee. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strict water quality standards for tap water, but the EPA does not oversee bottled water. Bottled water sold across state lines is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA interprets EPA clean drinking water regulations and applies them selectively to bottled water. While the FDA requires water sources to be "inspected, sampled, analyzed and approved," it only has one inspector so the industry does the inspecting.
Nor do the FDA regulations prevent bottling companies from drawing water next to industrial sites, underground storage tanks, or dumps. In Pennsylvania, the state health department tested the water and found high levels of coliform bacteria. after a man reported getting sick from drinking bottled water. In California, an independent lab tested for hundreds of different chemicals in 38 brands of California bottled water. Two samples had arsenic contamination, six had chemical byproducts of chlorination, and six had measurable levels of the toxic chemical toluene. So consumers should not assume that bottled water is safer than tap water. In fact Coca Cola’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina are tap water coming from places like Queens, NY and right here in Jacksonville, with some additional treatment.
Nestle prefers to market water from springs. The pumping can have a significant environmental impact, sucking water from underground aquifers that are the source of water for nearby streams, wells, and farms. In Mecosta County, a judge has ruled that Nestle must stop pumping from a site that is threatening the surrounding ecosystem. Nestle has at least 75 spring sites around the country and is actively looking for more.
Plastic Hazards and Waste.
What about the bottles themselves? Every year about 1.5 million tons of plastic go into manufacturing water bottles for the global market, using processes that release toxics such as nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide and benzene. In the U.S. alone 1.5 million barrels of oil are consumed in making the bottles. Most bottles end up in landfills, adding to the landfill crisis.
Source (in PDF format): http://www.sierraclub.org/committees/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf