Bottled Water


        The annual report of tests of Monroe city water came in the mail recently.  This report to customers is required by state statute.  The quantities of all the bad things were zero or very nearly zero (modern analytic methods are amazingly sensitive).  Lead quantities were well within the tolerance levels but not quite so near zero as the rest.  Mike Kennison, administrator of our water department confirmed that only in recent decades have there been consistent efforts to get rid of lead in plumbing and the tests are run on randomly selected customers’ faucets.


        Not long afterward I noticed a number of shopping carts in the check out line at the grocery store with cases of bottled water no doubt costing 1000 times more than tap water.  Even in my childhood it was widely and correctly believed that public water supplies were safe to drink all over the U. S. except for brief emergencies when we were asked not to drink the water without boiling it.  Americans drank bottled water when traveling to places like Mexico, and some European countries considered piped domestic water supplies to be for all domestic use except for drinking, but in the U.S. we felt confident in the safety of our water supply.


         How could bottled water have become so popular in America?  I doubted that it could actually be safer than tap water with all the detailed testing mentioned above.  The testing of many small producers of bottled water seems likely to be much less reliable.  A little research led me to the fact that bottled water sold in only the state of its origin has no federal testing requirements and five states have no requirement that bottled water needs any testing at all.  I also ran into a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  They tested over 1000 samples of bottled water of 103 different brands.  One third of the samples flunked at least one of the tests for a contaminant, either heavy metals, arsenic, synthetic organic chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides, or bacteria.  Their definitions of contaminating levels were all similar to those required of public water supplies throughout the U.S.


        It seems that the purveyors of bottled water have managed to create some doubt in the public’s mind about the appropriateness of drinking tap water.  Compare this with politicians’ spin doctors creating doubt about the reliability of each other to the point of fostering distrust of government.  I am not trying to imply that politicians are anywhere near as reliable as public water supplies---testing them is much less sophisticated than tests for water quality.


        I seldom frequent ritzy restaurants where the waiter would look askance if you ordered the house wine instead of a vintage bottle from their exclusive wine cellar.  But Hemisphere, one of the airlines’ give-away magazines, recently had a humorous article about how such restaurants are starting to promote imported water (at the price of house wine) so that you can “obtain all of the ambiance” of the region from which your favorite cuisine originated. 


         We laugh at the snake oil salesman at the frontier carnival.  But what about the scams right before our eyes.  So, rev up your BS detector before snubbing the kitchen faucet.

John A. Frantz, M.D.

July 15, 2004


July 20, 2007.  I am grateful to the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) for confirming the above with additional data about hidden costs to society of our enormous bottled water consumption.  The escalating demand for bottled water is another triumph for agnotology—a newly coined word meaning the science of creating ignorance.  The UCS report follows.


Addendum,  (from the Union of Concerned Scientists):  


Bottled water manufacturers' marketing campaigns capitalize on isolated instances of contaminated public drinking water supplies by encouraging the perception that their products are purer and safer than tap water. But the reality is that tap water is actually held to more stringent quality standards than bottled water, and some brands of bottled water are just tap water in disguise. What's more, our increasing consumption of bottled water--more than 22 gallons per U.S. citizen in 2004 according to the Earth Policy Institute--fuels an unsustainable industry that takes a heavy toll on the environment.


Environmental Impact:


Fossil fuel consumption: approximately 1.5 million gallons of oil--enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year--are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns thousands more gallons of oil. In addition, the burning of oil and other fossil fuels (which are also used to generate the energy that powers the manufacturing process) emits global warming pollution into the atmosphere.


Water consumption: the growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the bottles.


Waste: only about 10 percent of water bottles are recycled, leaving the rest in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose.


The Simple (and Cheaper) Solution


The next time  you feel thirsty,  forgo  the bottle  and turn to the tap.  You'll not only lower  your environmental impact  but also save money--bottled water can cost  up to 10,000  times more per gallon than tap water. And because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standards for tap water are  more stringent  than  the Food  and Drug Administration's standards  for bottled water, you'll be drinking water that is just as safe as, or safer than, bottled. 


If, however, you don't like the taste of your tap water or are unsure of its quality, you can buy a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria. If you will be away from home, fill a reusable bottle from your tap and refill it along the way; travel bottles with built-in filters are also available. Finally, limit your bottled water purchases for those times when  you're traveling in countries where water quality is questionable.


From Greentips online at   




The only difference between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction should be completely believable.                                                         Mark Twain. 

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