I have recently become aware of questions and comments pertaining to bottled water, particularly if it is the “biggest scam” of the century. I wrote about this subject extensively for my book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health, and while the book has been in print for going on seven years now, I am certain the information I provided is as relevant as ever today. I am including an excerpt here so you can get the gist of the water industry in general, and the value of bottled water specifically.
When we consider all the contaminants that infuse our drinking water today, is it any surprise that the bottled water industry has exploded, enjoying thirty-five billion dollars in sales worldwide? More than half of all Americans (54 percent) consume bottled water regularly, with 36 percent drinking it more than one time per week. Sales in the United States have now topped nine billion dollars and are rising rapidly. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, bottled water sales have been increasing at a rate of 9.1 percent per year. That makes it the fastest growing beverage segment in the United States, second only to sodas as the most consumed beverage by volume.
The quest for health has led Americans to consume bottled water at astonishing rates. Although most people poled in 2003 replied that health was the major reason for drinking bottled water, taste and convenience were also cited. Is bottled water really safer than tap, though? The answer to that question may actually startle you.
The EPA regulates public tap water. Bottled water, on the other hand, is a packaged product and is therefore considered a food item: that means it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has standards for bottled water that are as stringent as those set by the EPA’s for tap water. However, as reported by National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) Senior Attorney Eric Olson in his 1999 report, the FDA has a “weak regulatory framework,” which unfortunately “may allow careless or unscrupulous bottlers to market substandard products.”
What this means is that you do not always know how pure bottled water is. No law prohibits bottled water manufacturers from using a label with a picture of mountains or springs, regardless of the actual source of the water. Companies are therefore free to bottle tap water and market it with a label depicting some scene from nature. Seems misleading, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s completely legal. There are rules, though, which require bottled water labels to disclose the origin of the water (spring or mineral), the manufacturer, and the volume. If the water is from a municipal source and not treated any further, the label must say From a Municipal Source or From a Community Water System. Where this whole process starts to become convoluted is when a company takes regular tap water and treats it further; this can be something as minor as chlorinating the water, which is usually a pretty good sign that it is municipal tap water. Treated municipal water is not required to be labeled as such; therefore, companies can call their water “purified.”
According to government and industry estimates, about 25 to 40 percent of all bottled water is actually bottled tap water. Some cities have announced that they too will get into the bottled water business by selling their tap water without further treatment. And if those were not enough, the two largest beverage companies in the world, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, have also entered the bottled water race with their brands Aquafina and Dasani respectively. “Aquafina reportedly is treated tap water taken from 11 different city and town water supplies across the nation,” says the NRDC. PepsiCo executives explain that anybody can find out the true source of Aquafina by calling the 800 number on the bottle top. Sure, just let me call the number on this bottle top while I take a break from reading the inserts my utility company has sent me—give me a break! With mountains pictured on the label, I should assume that it means I am drinking pure mountain spring water, right? But there you have it—bottled tap water from the makers of liquid sugar. Today, Aquafina is the number 1 branded noncarbonated bottled water in the country.
So if 40 percent of bottled water is just tap water, how come it is so expensive? Industry experts disclose that 90 percent or more of the cost paid by consumers for bottled water go to things other than the actual water like bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing, and profit. And being tap water, bottled water from municipal sources may be contaminated with agents like fecal matter, bacteria, arsenic, and other carcinogenic chemicals. The NRDC did a four-year study to test bottled water safety and found 22 percent of brands tested chemicals at levels above strict state health limits. They concluded that “if consumed over a long period, some of these contaminants could cause cancer or other health problems.”
To be fair to many of the nation’s largest bottled water companies, most bottled water did pass the safety standards set by the NRDC in their study. Consumers can find out the source of their bottled water by visiting the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). The IBWA is a trade organization that helps the FDA set safety standards on bottled water. Members of
this organization must submit to an annual, unannounced inspection administered by an independent, internationally recognized third-party organization. This inspection ensures that its members are bottling and selling safe water. Please visit their Web site to check on your local bottler, supplier, or distributor.
Making a decision about whether to buy bottled water comes down to a couple of key points…
This is only a portion of the bevy of information I provide on drinking water and the numerous other aspects of keeping healthy and well in the twenty-first century. Pick up a copy of The Six Keys to Optimal Health here to get the most essential information and advice on health and wellness in print today.