Is Bottled Water Really Healthy?

By Herb Borkland


Forget the ad images of high mountain streams and diamond-pure glaciers. Did you ever stop and ask yourself why you really think bottled water is better for you than drinking tap water?

"The bottled water industry promotes bottled water as pure, safe, healthy and superior to tap water, but bottled water is actually less regulated than tap water," says Corporate Accountability International Associate Campaigns Director Gigi Kellett.

And in fact, an estimated 25% or more of bottled water is actually only tap water in a bottle — sometimes further treated, sometimes not. Water drinkers, it's time to take a closer look at the bottle in your hands and to ask yourselves, "What's in it for me?" Here's why...

Three out of four Americans drink bottled water, and one in five drink nothing else. Lots of people with health issues look to bottled water as a safe haven from at least one basic daily source of contaminants. However, new research is starting to expose how iffy this assumption of safety may be.

One trouble with bottled water is how much money is made by selling it. United States sales of bottled water skyrocketed 170% between 1997 and 2006, from $4 billion to $10.8 billion-a-year. Corporations like Coke™, Nestle™ and Pepsi™ are spending tens of millions of dollars every year to undermine people's confidence in tap water, even though the U.S. water systems are regulated better than bottled water.

For example, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is a consumer and promoter of the Big Apple's tap water. The City Council no longer buys bottled water and, at last summer's United States Conference of Mayors, the Council urged city governments across the country to do the same.

Some brands of bottled water are okay and turn out to be as-advertised. Even so, it's troubling to hear that The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completely exempts 60% to 70% of all the bottled water sold in the U.S. from the Agency's bottled water standards.

In addition to the FDA, state and local governments regulate bottled water, but sometimes standards vary from EPA rules and between the states themselves. Enforcement often depends on under-staffed agencies. The result?

About 22% of the brands of bottled water put through one non-profit organization's recent tests contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict health limits. What is turning up goes beyond traces of mercury, arsenic, lead and petrochemicals. There are also microbes, radionuclides that raise the long-term risk of cancer, inorganics, volatile organics, disinfectants and their byproducts and even gasoline additives like MTBE.

Who needs to worry most? Such products may pose a health risk, primarily for people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant and cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS.

What's more, the health exposure isn't simply a matter of what's already in the water when they bottle it. Sometimes it's the bottle itself. Plastic bottles left in a hot car or in direct sunlight may release cancer-causing chemicals. And buying glass bottles might not always help, either.

Chemicals called phthalates, known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into glass-bottled water in perhaps as soon as 10 weeks. The chemicals could be coming from the plastic bottle cap or liner. Regulatory standards limit the phthalates in tap water, but the bottled water industry has waged a successful campaign to keep the FDA from setting a legal limit for these chemicals.

The truth is, bottled water has gotten too expensive, too environmentally challenging and, above all, become an uncertain health risk. The long-term solution to contaminated drinking water is ensuring our tap water is safe for everybody.

In the meantime, carry your water in risk-free, reusable containers. If your tap water quality is poor or just tastes funny, it's a good idea to purchase filters certified by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF is the most respected and widely accepted approval authority for food industry equipment and can be trusted at home.

Clean water is a human right now... and always has been. It's worthwhile remembering that the Sanskrit book Rig-Veda, attributed to Vasistha of the 14th century BC, deals with how to recognize good drinking water. Can we of the 21st century afford to know any less?

To your health! Drink up!



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