Bottled Water: How Safe?

Author: Abhijit Banerjee

once a rarity, is now found everywhere, in homes, offices, stores, airplanes, and restaurants. In 2006, over eight billion gallons of bottled water was consumed across the globe. By 2007, the consumption in the US alone amounted to 8.8 billion gallons or 29 gallons per person. Bottled water was the second most consumed beverage in the US after carbonated soft drink

Over the past two decades, people have increasingly been shifting to bottled water because they consider it safe, find it refreshing, calorie-free, convenient to carry around, tastier than some tap water and healthier than soft drinks. But more and more people are questioning whether the water, and the package it comes in, is safe, or at least safer than tap water -- and if the convenience is worth the environmental impact.

Why is the demand for bottled water growing?

Most people have bottled water because

  • They consider bottled water safer than tap water.

  • It is portable and easy to carry.

  • It is refreshing
  • It is considered good for health.

Tap water may be contaminated by a range of chemical, microbial and physical hazards that could pose risks to health if they are present at high levels. Examples of chemical hazards include lead, arsenic and benzene. Microbial hazards, include bacteria, viruses and parasites, such as Vibrio cholerae, hepatitis A virus, and Crytosporidium parvum, respectively. Physical hazards include glass chips and metal fragments. Because of the large number of possible hazards in drinking-water, the development of standards for drinking-water requires significant resources and expertise, which many countries are unable to afford.

Some useful information

  • Tap water vs bottled water -- There is a common belief that botted water is better than tap waster. Though it might be true in developing countries, it is not the case in many developed countries. A four-year survey of the bottled water industry conducted by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Canada revealed that one-third of the bottled water tested contained levels of contamination which exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines. The survey also observed that an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water was just tap water in a bottle -- sometimes further treated, sometimes not

  • Know your water -- To determine bottled water is really just tap water, check if the bottle label or the cap says "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system".

  • Contaminents in bottled water -- During the survey NRDC found most bottled water relatively free of contaminants. The survey opined that the the "spotty" quality of products of some brands might "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)." About 22 percent of the brands they tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. If consumed over a long period of time, some of these contaminants could cause cancer or other health problems.

  • Health risk from plastic in water bottles -- Recent research conducted by NRDC revealed the presence of chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, and can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles contained phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Incidentally, there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap water and there are no legal limits for phthalates in bottled water. The US bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.

To improve safety of bottled water

  • Initiatives should be taken by citizens to urge their concerned governments to adopt strict requirements for bottled water safety, labeling, and public disclosure. Citizens should specifically request for --

  • Setting of strict limits for contaminants of concern in bottled water, including arsenic, heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria, E. coli and other parasites and pathogens, and synthetic organic chemicals such as "phthalates".

  • Ensuring the application of rules to all types of bottled water -- including carbonated water and those sold intrastate or interstate

  • Setting regulations that require bottlers to display information on their labels about the levels of contaminants of concern found in the water, the water's exact source, how it has been treated, and whether it meets health criteria set by the concerned environmental protection agency and the disease control agency for killing parasites like cryptosporidium.

Bottled Water and the Environment

  • In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-litre bottles of water were shipped to U.S. ports. In New York City alone, the transportation of bottled water from western Europe released an estimated 3,800 tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere. In California, 18 million gallons of bottled water were shipped in from Fiji in 2006, producing about 2,500 tons of global warming pollution.

  • And while the bottles come from far away, most of them end up close to home -- in a landfill. Most bottled water comes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottles we use get recycled.

  • Plastics travel through our sewage system and land up in the oceans. This poses a huge threat to marine life. To a sea turtle, a floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish. And plastic pellets, the small hard pieces of plastic from which plastic products are made, look like fish eggs to seabirds. Drifting nets entangle birds, fish and mammals, making it difficult, if not impossible to move or eat. As our consumption of plastic mounts, so too does the danger to marine life.

The Negative Impact of Bottled Water on Health

  • Bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than water distributed in piped distribution systems. As a result, some micro-organisms, which are normally of little or no public health significance, may grow to higher levels in bottled waters. These organisms appear to have little or no growth in tap water and in water bottled in glass containers as against stagnant water and water bottled in plastic containers.

  • Chances are ordinary tap water has been added to used mineral water bottles and sold as the original article.

  • The plastic used in both single-use and reusable bottles can be more of a contamination threat than the water. A safe plastic made of #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is supposed to be used only once. However, it is often reused and chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter.

  • There is a school of thought which advocates that even reusable water bottles should not be used. They question the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical known to leach out. Studies show that even extremely low doses of the chemical can be damaging. Research has linked the chemical to a variety of disorders, including obesity and breast cancer, birth defects and miscarriages.

  • The excessive use of bottled water (which often does not have added Flouride unlike tap water) may mean users won't get enough fluoride to build strong teeth and prevent decay

Bottled Water and Benefits to Health

In European countries, many consumers believe that natural mineral waters have medicinal properties or offer other health benefits. Such waters are typically of high mineral content and, in some cases, significantly above the concentrations normally accepted in drinking-water. Such waters have a long tradition of use and are often accepted on the basis that they are considered foods rather than drinking-water per se. Although certain mineral waters may be useful in providing essential micro-nutrients, such as calcium, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is unaware of any convincing evidence to support the beneficial effects of consuming such mineral waters.

It should be noted that neither the CAC nor WHO offer certification of any bottled or mineral water.

About the Author:

Freelance writer specially in areas of sustainable living. Currently a writer for Copperwiki, a conscious living website.

Article Source: - Bottled Water: How Safe?

blog comments powered by Disqus