Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bottled Water in America

I'm paying more for it, I believe it's healthier than what comes from my tap (which is municipal, not from a well), but the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says it might not be. It conducted a 4-year review of bottled water and concluded:
" ... there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle."
- NRDC, Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?
How do you know if what's in your bottle came from a tap? It won't be evident, but you can look for the phrases:
  • "From a municipal source"
  • "From a community water system"
Don't be fooled by a pretty label. A couple labels the NRDC found:
  • "Spring Water" (with a picture of a lake surrounded by mountains on the label) -- Was actually from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.

  • Alasika™ -- "Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water: Pure Glacier Water From the Last Unpolluted Frontier, Bacteria Free" -- Apparently came from a public water supply. This label has since been changed after FDA intervention.
Their report was published in 1999, but it's the most recent large-scale analysis to date that I've found. The disturbing part of their report describes how bottled water is subject to less stringent regulation than tap water.

The FDA is responsible for bottled water at the national level, but their rules "completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold within the same state." (I just checked my bottle of Deer Park Spring Water and all the sources listed are within my state.) They also exempt all carbonated water and seltzer. Even when FDA rules are in force, they don't subject bottled water to the same testing frequency and purity standards as tap water.

As a result, the NRDC found about one-third of the waters they tested were contaminated with synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic.

If you're going to "spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water" it's worth having a look at how your favorite water fared. Below is a snippet of their test results. Click the chart to see the full report.

Bottled Water Contaminants Found

(Click the chart for full report.)

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