Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bottled Water: Go Tap

A few weeks ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, public health organization, released their bottled water assessment. It's not pretty:
Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants
"Our tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted. Given the industry's refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in the purity of bottled water is simply not justified."

"The bottled water industry promotes an image of purity, but comprehensive testing by the EWG reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed."
Note: The Deer Park water shown may or may not have been included in their tests. It just happened to be a bottle of water I had available for a photograph (although Brand #3 and Brand #4, coming from Silver Springs, Maryland, look mighty suspicious).

Some of those contaminants:
  • Toxic disinfection byproducts (e.g. chloroform)
  • Caffeine
  • Pharmaceuticals (e.g. Tylenol)
  • Heavy metals
  • Minerals (e.g. arsenic)
  • Radioactive isotopes 1
  • Fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia)
  • Solvents
  • Plasticizers
  • Viscosity decreasing agents
  • Propellants
"Four brands [almost half of those tested] had some bacterial contamination ... which could indicate unsanitary conditions at the bottled water plant or bottled water collection site."
Although the brands used were kept anonymous, two were so polluted, and remained so in follow-up tests, that the EWG decided to go public with them. Below is their graph showing levels of just two contaminants that exceeded legal and industry standards in Walmart and Giant brands:

I found the following especially disturbing:
"The study also included assays for breast cancer cell proliferation. ... One bottled water brand spurred a 78% increase in the growth of the breast cancer cells compared to the control sample. ... When estrogen-blocking chemicals were added, the effect was inhibited, showing that the cancer-spurring chemicals mimic estrogen, a hormone linked to breast cancer."
EWG Recommends

Go Brita 2: "A carbon filter, tap mounted or pitcher variety, removes many of the contaminants found in public tap water, rendering it as good as, if not better than, most brands of bottled water."

Ditch the Plastic: "EWG recommends that consumers use a stainless steel bottle filled with filtered tap water."
1 Radioactivity was detected in seven brands, averaging 3.7 picoCuries/liter. FDA limit: not to exceed 4 millirems per year (equivalent to 50 pCi/L). Does that mean no more than 13 bottles of this radioactive water a year?
2 My plug, not theirs.

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