Bottled Water: Why It’s Bad for You, the Environment, and Water – Part I
Part I: Why Bottled Water is Bad for You
30 years ago people would have thought you were crazy if you suggested buying expensive bottled water instead of getting it from the tap. However, since then some brilliant minds have convinced billions of people that bottled water is better for you than tap water with their marketing campaigns. Besides that, in my opinion, people have just gotten lazier over the years. To the point that they can’t be bothered to get up and fill a reusable bottle, and instead just reach for the next bottle.
This post is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing over the next few weeks on why bottled water is bad for you, for the environment, and for water itself. In this first post I’ll be making talking about why bottled water is in fact NOT good for you for a variety of reasons. Let’s get started.
Why Bottled Water is Bad
- Bottled Water is Expensive: The typical cost for tap water is $0.0015/gallon vs. a gallon of bottled water at prices ranging from $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon. And the kicker? 40% of all bottled water is taken from municipal water sources AKA tap water.
- Did you know Pepsi’s Aquafina brand, which is nothing more than tap water further purified, made about $2.8 billion in sales in 2011 (13% of the market), followed by Coca-Cola’s Dasani bottled tap water with about $2.3 billion (11% of the market). Feel ripped off yet?
- Want to get even crazier? There is a brand of bottled water called Bling H2O which sells in Los Angeles for $40, and at Las Vegas night clubs for $90!
- Bottled Water Keeps People in Poverty: In many poor areas of the world where clean water is not readily available bottled water is more expensive than the same sized bottle of water. People need water to survive, and by selling water at a higher cost these companies are contributing to the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty for these people. All this while Americans spent $21.7 billion on bottled water in 2011. Think of how much could be done to bring people clean water with just a fraction of that money that is wasted on bottled water.
- Bottled Water is Bad for Your Health:
- 22% of bottled water tested contains chemical contaminants above the level approved by state health limits.
- Testing by the Environmental Working Group found that “10 popular brands of bottled water, purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in 9 states and the District of Columbia, 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 the Sam’s Choice and Acadia brands levels of some chemicals exceeded legal limits in California as well as industry-sponsored voluntary safety standards. Four brands were also contaminated with bacteria.” Among the chemicals found exceeding legal levels were disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes (known to cause cancer and reproductive problems), and bromodichloromethane (causes cancer). Other nasty things found were pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes, fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia), as well as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.
- Even scarier, the same study included assays for breast cancer cell proliferation by the University of Missouri, and the results were not good. One bottle water brand stimulated a 78% increase in the growth of breast cancer cells compared to a control sample. 1,200 cancer cells increased to 32,000 in four days, vs an increase to 18,000 in the control sample.
- Phthalate, a chemical group used to make the plastic bottles for bottled water, can leech into the water and is a potential cancer causing agent. The FDA has no standards for Phthalate and does not test for them.
- Bottled water is not tested for e.coli, and bottled water companies don’t have to tell you where the water came from or produce quality reports.
- Ozonation is increasingly being used to disinfect bottled water. However, when ozone and bromide (naturally occurring) interact they form bromate, a possible human carcinogen. In 2006 the FDA recalled several brands of bottled water because of elevated levels of bromate.
- The FDA only regulates 30-40% of bottled water (it has less than one full time person dedicated to bottled water), and only requires that companies test four empty bottles once every three months for bacterial contamination. They must test a sample of water after filtration and before bottling for bacteria once a week. When it comes to chemical, physical, and radiological contaminants, a sample of water must be checked only once a year. The companies do not have to test the water after bottling or storage. These regulations are much more lax than those for tap water. Some states do have their own regulations for bottled water, some similar to the FDA’s, some stronger, and some weaker.
- When plastic bottles are incinerated they release toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash laden with heavy metals. Health impacts of chlorine gas varies depending on exposure, but can be anything from sore throat, coughing, and skin/eye irritation to difficulty breathing, chest pain, and nausea, to death in extreme levels of exposure. There are a number of heavy metals, each with different consequences, but some of them include vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, fever, cardiovascular problems, birth defects, mental retardation, headache, and difficulty breathing.
Check out the Bottled Water Scorecard put out by the Environmental Working Group to see how the bottled water you drink measures up: http://static.ewg.org/reports/2010/bottledwater2010/pdf/2011-bottledwater-scorecard-report.pdf
Why Tap Water is Safe
- EPA requires that water systems serving more than one million residents test 300 water samples per month, while utilities serving three million people or more must collect and test 480 samples monthly. The minimum is 100 times a month.
- Testing frequency for inorganic and organic contaminants, which includes volatile organic compounds (such as benzene, which can leach from gas storage tanks and landfills, or come from a factory) and synthetic organic chemicals ranges from every three months to once a year or longer, depending on a number of factors. Those include whether the water comes from an underground source, or from a surface source, such as a river or lake; the size of the population the system serves; and the utility’s past record of compliance.
- Tap water can have no confirmed E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria (bacteria that are indications of possible contamination by fecal matter). Bottled water doesn’t have to.
- Tap water from surface water must be filtered and disinfected (or the water system must adopt well-defined protective measures for the source water it uses, such as control of potentially polluting activities that may affect the stream involved).
- Tap water must meet standards for certain important toxic or cancer-causing chemicals such as phthalate (a chemical that can leach from plastic, including plastic bottles); some in the industry persuaded FDA to exempt bottled water from regulations regarding these chemicals
- Cities must have their water tested by government-certified labs. This is not the case for bottled water.
- Tap water test results and notices of violations must be reported to state or federal officials. No reporting is required for bottled water.
- City water systems must issue annual “right-to-know” reports telling consumers what is in their water. Therefore, if there is something in your tap water you’ll know it. You have no idea what is in the bottled water you’re drinking.
Wondering how your tap water measures up? You can check on the status of your tap water on the EPA’s website by clicking here: http://water.epa.gov/drink/local/index.cfm
Solutions if You’re Worried About Your Tap Water or Don’t Like the Way it Tastes?
There are a number of different filters out on the market that can be used to further clean your tap water. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) compared the prices and capacities of 7 faucet-mounted and pitcher filters. The prices ranged from $19.99 to $39.99 with treatment capacities ranging from 40 gallons to 100 gallons. With this information, we estimate an average cost of these types of systems as $0.31 per gallon. The EWG also compared 5 different whole house carbon filter units and documented prices in the range between $64.99 to $795 per unit, with life spans between 3 and 36 months. Thus, the annual cost is in the range of $260 – $595 with an average of $375. This leads to an estimated cost of $1.00/day that translates into $0.25 daily cost per person for an average four-person household. You can use their water filter buying guide to figure out what filter is right for you: http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/getawaterfilter
Finally, a quote from the former chairman of Perrier, now part of Nestlé’s collection of more than 70 global bottled water brands, candidly stated: “It struck me…that all you had to do is take the water out of the ground and then sell it for more than the price of wine, milk, or, for that matter, oil.” When you hear it said like that it really shows how ridiculous it is that people pay for it, huh?
Don’t be fooled. Don’t harm your health. Don’t drink bottled water.
Hopefully you found this educational and will think about drinking tap water instead of bottled water from now on. There’s really no reason not to. Stay tuned for Part II of the series next week.
I usually don’t do this, but wanted to plug my facebook page. Most days I update the page with news articles from around the world having to do with WASH issues that I think are important. If you’re into that sort of thing please visit the page, and if you like it hit the “like” button and show your support: www.facebook.com/hydratelife
Thanks for reading!