Over the past few decades, millions of people, especially in the Western world have been consuming bottled water on a regular basis. The more bottled water was marketed, the more people switched from using tap water to using bottled water. The situation is so extreme in many metropolitan areas and for a large portion of the world population that it has made people forget that there was life before bottled water simply by using the free, flowing water from any potable water tap. Many people have switched over to bottled water with the belief that they are doing something good for their health, as concerns have been raised about the safety and purity of tap water. However, while many such concerns are valid, studies show that bottled water has a lot of its own problems. These include safety and contamination concerns, environmental and pollution concerns, and social justice concerns. All of these together add up to make bottled water a very problematic choice. So what are you to do?
In this article, I will first help you understand why bottled water is not worth the price for your health or your wallet, and then I will share with you what you can do to make healthier and more responsible choices where the consumption of water is concerned.
Research Shows Bottled Water is Not As Safe As We Have Been Led to Believe
If you are reading this article, then it goes without saying that you are aware of various municipal water contamination issues. This is what gets most people to switch to bottled water. However, while some municipalities throughout the world have some serious problems, most do not. That is not to say that most tap water doesn’t have some concerns, it definitely does. However, the problems are usually not as serious as some are led to believe, most problems can be easily corrected with home water filters, and the problems usually do not outweigh the problems associated with bottled water. So let’s start by examining this latter point.
For the past few years, there have been reports questioning the source and quality of the so-called “natural spring water,” which many people think that they are buying when they get bottled water. A 2011 report from the Environmental Working Group was one of the first to expose the dirty truth about bottled water.
In summary, more than half of the 173 bottled water brands surveyed in 2010 flunked EWG’s transparency test. EWG conducted comprehensive testing of US-bottled water and found an alarming array of contaminants, including:
- Cancer-causing byproducts of chlorination
- Fertilizer residues, 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
The EWG analysis that focused on 10 bottled water brands, found 38 chemical pollutants 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,”
Jane Houlihan ~ Co-author of the study
The list of the brands tested is anonymous as part of market-based research, except for two brands: Wal-Mart and Giant bottled water brands. These two were actually named in this study because the first tests and numerous follow-up tests confirmed that these two brands contained contaminants at levels that exceeded state standards or voluntary industry guidelines. The safest bottled water choices, in most cases, come from European countries where there are real springs in mountains or deep underground.
Why Are Most People Drinking Bottled Water?
As mentioned in the introduction, the majority of people today who drink bottled water are under the false assumption that bottled water is safer, better, and 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.
Whereas 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, bottled water is typically tested on the day of production, and then it gets put in a plastic bottle, shipped across vast distances, and exposed to a range of temperatures during shipment and sale. What all this means is that its quality cannot be guaranteed because it is not the same when you buy it as how it was the day it got tested.
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. The following article, Coca-Cola admits that Dasani is nothing but tap water is just one of many such examples.
Health Consequences of Polluted Bottled Water
The scientists in this study also did something else that may come as an eye-opening incident for 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. And even though a company may argue that the amounts of chemicals in any bottled water are far below any significant levels to cause any harm, we need to 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. Refer to my 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 drunk 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 one choice on the market today are food-grade stainless steel water bottles. These come in various sizes, shapes, and colors and hands down are the best 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, refer to the EWG’s Guide to Safe Drinking Water.
As with all things, do your own research. Don’t rely on companies that you buy from to tell you the truth and don’t rely on the government and regulatory organizations to keep you safe. The best results in life come from the times that we take responsibility for our choices and our wellbeing. Before you commit to buying bottled water, examine all of your other options and think with your wallet, your health, and our environment in mind.
Resources and Further Reading
Bottled Water Everywhere: Keeping it Safe from the FDA
Top Three Reasons to Avoid Bottled Water from Harvard
Why Bottled WAter is the Biggest Scam of the Century from Spoon University