Since the past decade, millions of people, especially in the Western world have and do consume bottled water on a regular basis. Most of us do not know how life existed before this convenience was available to us. But is this water really the better choice for our health and the health of our planet? All evidence points to a no, and below we will explore why you may want to reconsider this habit.
Many people have switched over to bottled water for themselves and their families for none other than the belief that it is safer and hence better for us than tap water. Naturally convenience has also driven this trend, but safety has been number one.
Most of us have heard the odd water contamination scare or heard too many negative stories about how our cities and towns clean our tap water. The source of tap water is usually of course some polluted lake and one cannot forget that tap water was technically once toilet water.
Hence bottled water seemed like the safe and smart thing to invest in. After today however, you may want to rethink that.
For the past few years now there have been speculating reports as to the true source and quality of the so called “natural spring water.” In a recent report from the Environmental Working Group, those speculations have turned to facts – facts that bottled water is not at all what most people perceive it to be.
Research Shows Bottled Water Not So Safe
On October 15th, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an industry-rattling report that reveals the dirty truth about bottled water. If you regularly drink bottled water, brace yourself as the news is not pretty.
EWG conducted comprehensive testing on 10 brands of US bottled water and found an alarming array of contaminants, including:
- cancer-causing byproducts of chlorination
- fertilizer residue like nitrate and ammonia
- industrial solvents
- pharmaceuticals like Tylenol
- heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes
- a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals
Overall the bottled water tested contained 38 chemical pollutants altogether, with an average of 8 contaminants in each brand. More than one-third of the chemicals found, are not regulated in bottled water.
In some cases, it appears bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and, at 1,900 times the cost, consumers should expect better,” said Jane Houlihan, co-author of the study.
The list of the 10 brands tested is anonymous as part of market based research, except for 2 brands: Wal-Mart and Giant bottled water brands. These 2 were actually named in this study because the first tests and numerous follow-up tests confirmed that these 2 brands contained contaminants at levels that exceeded state standards or voluntary industry guidelines.
Personally, I would not be banking too much on one bottled water being significantly better than another. The only safer choice, when buying bottled water is naturally sparkling or plain mineral spring water. These waters come from real mountain springs, usually found only in some countries like Europe. I also would make a point of preferring one that comes in a glass versus a plastic bottle.
Why Are Most People Drinking Bottled Water?
As I mentioned to you in the introduction, the majority of people out there today who drink bottled water are under the false assumption that bottled water is safer, better and/or healthier for them than tap water.
The truth is that bottled water companies are not required to disclose or notify consumers of the quality of the water. This includes the occurrence of contaminants in the water and also in most states, to tell their customers where the water comes from, how and if it is purified, and if it is merely bottled tap water. Also bottled water manufacturing does not adhere to the same strict testing that municipal water does.
Where as municipal water must be tested on a regular basis (in most municipalities even several times per day), bottled water does not go through the same testing. In fact the bottled water may be tested on the day of production, but being put in a plastic bottle and taking into considerations distance and temperature changes during shipment and sale – the quality cannot be guaranteed when you buy it, to that of that day it got tested.
The U.S. EPA website clearly provides and describes the lack of quality assurance for bottled water: “Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water.”
An excerpt from Bottled Water Blues, a not for profit bottled water resource guide, further drives this point across:
The truth is that bottled water is only required to be “as good as” tap… not better. And the federal guidelines that govern bottled water quality only apply if water is transported across state lines. Most bottled water is bottled and sold within the same state in order to avoid regulation. It’s an industry full of deception. Bottled water is currently the fastest-growing and most profitable segment of the entire beverage industry. “Companies that market bottled water as being safer than tap water are defrauding the American public.” – U.S. FDA
This market is so profitable in fact, that many companies that have nothing to do with water try to enter the market because it is a sure profit. Known companies like Pepsi Co. and the Coca-Cola Company have been reaping the rewards of their products consistently since their release; PepsiCo’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani. Both of these bottled waters have been under massive scrutiny as to their true source and testing.
Check out articles like “Coca-Cola admits that Dasani is nothing but tap water” or “Aquafina labels to spell out source – tap water from CNN Health News.”
Health Consequences of Polluted Bottled Water
The scientists in this study also did something else that may shock you.
They included tests for breast cancer cell growth, conducted at the University of Missouri. One of the bottled water brands tested, stimulated a 78% increase in the growth of breast cancer cells compared to a control sample. (1,200 initial breast cancer cells multiplied to 32,000 in 4 days, versus only 18,000 for the control sample)
This outcome indicated that chemical contaminants in the bottled water sample stimulated accelerated division of cancer cells.
Now although a company may argue that the amounts of chemicals in any bottled water are far below any significant levels to cause any harm, think about the sheer volume of bottled water that the average North American drinks, not to mention all the other chemicals they intake through their food and other drinks. The accumulating effects have to account for something.
What the study did not mention is that there is also a risk to one’s liver if taking in chemicals on a regular basis as our liver has to detoxify any and all drugs, toxins and foreign substances that enter our bodies. Hence one can conclude that bottled water can also put a heavier than necessary burden on one’s liver, which may lead to future health complications.
Secondly, bottled water comes in PET or PETE #1 plastic bottles. (See article on understanding plastic bottle numbers for more information.) This substance that holds the water has been under scrutiny itself for being carcinogenic. Although this has not been fully proven to this date, what has been proven is that this plastic has a high incidence of bacterial contamination. Hence never ever should these bottles be refilled, especially if left in warm temperatures. Also the water from these bottles should not be drank after standing half full for days without refrigeration.
Environmental Consequences of Bottled Water
Although this study and article are health related, I do not feel that our discussion would be complete without mentioning the disastrous environmental aspects of bottled water.
The environmental effects of bottled water are widely known today, as it is no secret what a horrible effect plastic has on the environment.
For starters, plastic is not biodegradable in any way shape or form, so when we throw a plastic bottle away into a landfill (heaven forbid litter on the ground), it will sit there indefinitely.
Secondly, studies show that only 1/5 of all plastic water bottles produced get recycled. Ouch! The rest lie around polluting the Earth or worse being incinerated. Both of these actions are heavily detrimental to the health of our environment.
We know that the benefits of drinking plenty of water daily are too many to name where our health is concerned, hence ruling out drinking water is not an option. However, one can carry their water in safe, reusable bottles.
Aside from glass bottles, which most people shy away from for reasons of convenience, in my opinion the number #1 choice on the market today are Klean Kanteen bottles. These are made of high quality stainless steel.
These come in various sizes, shapes and colors and hands down are the safest choice out there next to glass bottles for carrying water with you anywhere you go.
So What Water Can One Drink Safely?
The best answer to enjoy plenty of water in a safe manner is to find a local spring. You can do so by visiting FindASpring.com. The next best thing if one is not available in your area is to drink properly filtered tap water instead of bottled or unfiltered tap water. Which filtration is best will require some research on your part.
Secondly, carry the spring or filtered tap water in safe, environmentally-friendly and reusable containers like glass bottles or high quality stainless steel bottles, such as the Klean Kanteen bottles mentioned above.
For more information, check out EWG’s Guide to Safe Drinking Water – great for sharing with others or printing for your own home or office use.
Personally, I have not drank or purchased bottled water in over 2 years now. It was in fact very easy to kick the habit.
As with many other things in my life that I contemplated on, one day it just did not make environmental sense for me to drink bottled water. Then I began my research on plastics, after which I researched the quality of bottled water and the whole picture just came together. There was no way I was going to pay for something that is not even better to that which I can get for free.
Hence that is the point of this article – to save you money and to save your health.
My solution when I lived in the city was to simply get a carbon water filter, such as Brita (a filter costs about $6 and lasts on average 3 months). Had I stayed longer in that house, I would have invested in a more thorough filtrating system. Secondly getting a safe, reusable bottle as recommended above, to enjoy water as best as possible when on the go. Today, I am blessed to live close enough to a natural, local spring which I visit once a week filling up a 20 liter glass bottle to satisfy all of our household’s fresh drinking water needs.
As an extra, if you feel strongly about the dishonest and money-grabbing bottled water industry and would like to see changes in the quality, price and distribution of bottled water, consider signing the “Think Outside The Bottle Pledge” from Corporate Accountability International (formerly INFACT).