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DISPATCH: Cool, Clear Hype
Posted on June 13, 2005 by Anita Roddick

As I said in my book, Troubled Water, many popular brands of bottled water, are, in fact, LESS pure than even the New York City Tap Water and I would imagine, London water. This article describes that a study at Geneva University showed that the only difference between tap and bottled is that the bottled water contained added minerals and salts, and that adds nothing to your health and itís bad if you even remotely suffer from high blood pressure. Read on and get sick of that industry.

Cool, clear hype?
by Sigrid Heath Woodstock Times

"Mineral water with your dinner?" Which water with fish... Blue plastic, scenes of sylvan serenity on the labels. We love it. According to the International Bottled Water Association, Americans are hooked on the stuff, tossing down 6.4 billion gallons in 2003, up about eight percent from the previous year and with no sign of slowing down.

It's packed in lunch boxes, carried to the gym, a big bottle sits on the desk - finish it all by the end of the day! Makes you feel good about yourself to consume all that cool, clear water. Especially when - as has recently been the case in Woodstock (see page 5) - you learn about elevated levels of volatile organic compounds or some other contaminant in your tap water. Buy bottled water; it's got to be better.

Maybe, and maybe not.

The FDA regulates the booming bottled water industry. At least that part of it that deals with interstate commerce. Since 1974 when the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, started monitoring the quality of public drinking water - tap water - every standard adopted by the EPA for tap water has been adopted by the FDA for bottled water.

Except for those the FDA has determined are unnecessary.

In fact, some important differences exist in the rules the EPA applies to tap water and those the FDA places on production of bottled water. A general comparison, provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

  • Bottled water doesn't require disinfection at the plant; it's sale isn't banned even if the presence of E. coli and/or fecal coliform is confirmed; testing for bacteria occurs once a week; no filter is required to remove pathogens and neither is the source required to be strictly protected; no test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia or viruses is required; and the FDA will test for the presence of synthetic organic chemical once a year.

  • Big city tap water must be disinfected; if coliform bacteria are found, use of the water is banned; the water is tested for bacteria hundreds of times a month; the water must be filtered to remove pathogens AND the source must be strictly protected; the city must test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia or viruses; and the water is tested for synthetic organic compounds every three months.

  • With this information, it would be wise for people with compromised immune systems - including many infants, frail elderly people, people who have recent undergone transplant surgery, cancer patients, or people living with HIV infection - to avoid bottled water unless they're certain of the quality.

    Health? Or status?
    A December 2003 article in Common Dreams, reported on a 2001 World Wildlife study that confirmed the author's suspicions that consumers equate use of bottled water with "social status and healthy living." Even those who claimed to make the switch to bottled for the superior taste can't tell the difference, as demonstrated when participants in a Good Morning America taste test chose New York City tap water over certain bottled favorites. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University and Ohio State University compared 57 samples of bottled water to Cleveland's tap water in a recent study. The results, published in the Archives of Family Medicine, found that 15 of the bottles of water had significantly higher bacteria levels than the tap water. The researchers concluded that while all the water tested was okay to drink, "use of bottled water on the assumption of purity can be misguided."

    A study by scientists at the University of Geneva came to similar conclusions. In 50 percent of the cases they studied, the only difference between tap and bottled water was that the latter contained added minerals and salts, "which do not actually mean the water is healthier."

    Green? Not very.
    The Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature, parent organization of the World Wildlife Fund, argues strongly that bottled water is a waste of money and is very environmentally unfriendly.

    Distribution of bottled water uses much more fuel than does the delivery of tap water, especially considering importation, under refrigeration, over what can be great distances.

    The WWF estimates that each year water bottles use about 1.5 million tons of oil-derived polyethylene terephthalate plastic, or PET, globally. PET is less toxic to users than many plastics, but the Berkeley Ecology Center found that manufacturing PET generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions-in the form of nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide and benzene-compared to making the same amount of glass.

    Put that water down! You don't know where it came from.
    Misleading labels are an ongoing issue. Here's a good one from the NRDC:

    Many different brands of bottled "spring water" got their product from a well in an industrial warehouse facility in Millis, Massachusetts, immediately adjacent to a state-designated industrial waste site. The water was tainted with industrial solvents including the volatile organic compound, trichloroethylene, or TCE, at levels above EPA and FDA standards. (TCE was the contaminant found in the ground water near Rotron; in response to the contamination, the town of Woodstock extended its delivery of municipal water to include the affected neighborhoods.) The label on one of these bottles depicted a lovely spring and the stuff was named "spring water." When the state of Massachusetts questioned the FDA, the agency determined that label was okay as long as the water does come to the surface sometimes (as it does, sometimes, in an unpaved area near the parking lot), and as long as "there is no claim to the effect that the location pictured in the vignette is the actual spring, we would not consider the label vignette to be in violation of our requirements." Public response was as expected, and this well is no longer being used for bottled water.

    How do you know what's safe?
    New York has one of the more stringent programs in the nation overseeing the production and sale of bottled water, with standards exceeding those of the FDA. New York applies the same standards to water produced in the state as it does to that imported from outside. The state issues certification numbers that must be renewed annually, and a sample of the water must be submitted with the request for a renewed permit.

    If you must, in an emergency (such as VOCs in the tap), buy bottled water, and are concerned about its safety, buy brands with a known protected source and ones that make readily available testing and treatment information that shows high water quality.

    Additional information:
    1. Another significant health issue is the leakage of chemicals from plastic containers into the water, always dangerous but at its worst when water has been frozen in the bottle. Best is to use a glass bottle Ė just buy or crochet a bottle holder to protect it.

    2. Bottled juice, tea and water companies have been fighting Albany to prevent their plastic containers from being included in the very successful NYS deposit refund system. At the time the refund law was passed (20 years ago) bottled non-carbonated beverages were unknown. Now they are a large potion of the beverage market. Go to Bigger, Better Bottle Bill to read more and learn how you can help to get A.3922/S.1696 passed this session. Everyone who walks or bikes along a country road will owe you thanks. If you are in State Senator Bonacicís district you can email him at http://senatorbonacic.com/contact_info.asp. Letters and faxes are even more effective.

    Topic : Water
    Posted By : Anita Roddick
    Posted On : June 13, 2005



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