Evian – Naive?
The simplicity and ease of disposable bottled water has become the norm for most of us Americans. The increasing dependency on bottled water may not have happened had our governments not neglected to preserve watersheds, and monitor and update aging pipes and infrastructure. There happen to be skeptics of both bottle and tap, but either way, good quality drinking water is going to become harder and harder to find.
Water is an essential element to life on planet Earth. Everyone needs water to survive, especially when up to 60% of the human body is composed of it. Approximately 75% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, but only 1% of that is drinkable. Therefore clean drinking water is not as abundant as it may seem. With water as a limited available resource, and not as plentiful in some regions as it is in others, it has recently become common for water to be bottled and sold.
Representative Dennis Kuchinich (D) of Ohio claims that, “Water is a basic human right, it’s necessary for survival of life. When you start commodifying the necessities of life in such a way as to make it more difficult for people to gain access, you have the basis for serious political instability.”
Serious political instability is now the reality. Water has become profitable and marketed to those who can afford buying bottled waters when they already have access to clean water out of their tap.
The World Bank places the value of the world water market at $800 billion. They see water as blue gold; they do not see it as a fundamental right, only a way to make a profit, according to Ruth Caplan, the National Coordinator for Defending Water for Like Alliance for Democracy. The heart of the controversy over selling water is that water is fundamentally no different than oil or any other private commodity.
This generation has become increasingly dependent on the plastic pollutant. Each simple purchase does not just relieve our thirst, but affects a slew of other aspects of life. Each purchase and consumption of bottled water could be dangerous to one’s health, damaging to the environment, and adds up to water that is 1,900 times more expensive than tap water. It doesn’t look like common sense to continue purchasing bottled water due to the enormous ramifications it causes, but millions upon millions of people keep buying, keep drinking, and keep polluting every single day.
The habit is hard to break – trust me.
Not only is this generation one of bottled water guzzlers, it is a rather lazy and selfish generation too. “We need to know that there is something, just for us, that we can throw away. We want everything individualized and personalized, just for us. And not to have to wash it or take care of it, we want to just throw it away. And we want it immediately available and convenient otherwise we’ll have a fit.”
There is no responsibility required with bottled water. We buy it, we drink it, and then we throw it away, never to be thought of again. There is no thought of what repercussions this purchase has.
A scary thought though is that, “every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy and open up a plastic bottle of commercially produced water, and every second of every day in the United States, a thousand plastic bottles are thrown away, 85 million bottles a day. More than 30 billion bottles a year at a cost to consumers of tens of billions of dollars.” To put that into perspective, if it took a reader 20 seconds to read just this paragraph, 20,000 bottles have already arrived in the landfill.
These billions of plastic bottles do not just disappear. They are tossed into landfills and are littering our ecosystems and oceans. The bottles’ production also produces harmful plastic byproducts. Furthermore, the extraction of the water to fill these bottles taps into already depleting groundwater sources. In addition, bottlers are even diminishing community water sources for their own profit-making use.
So if we, Americans are buying so much bottled water, there has to be a good reason why we are spending substantial amounts of money on it, right?
There are four main reasons why people buy bottled water: fear of their tap water, taste, style, and convenience.
We all try to avoid the things that we fear. Some people fear that the water that comes out of their tap will harm them. Fear of sickness and of invisible contamination is an effective tool. A lot of Americans are afraid of waterborne diseases, microbes, and dirty pathogens they do not really know anything about. The fear of tap water could come from considerable media coverage about illness due to drinking municipal tap water rather than drinking bottled, or because bottled water advertisers inadvertently suggest that tap water is inferior to bottled. The percentage of people who drink bottled water based on the fact that they think it is safer than tap water is 35% according to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation’s Consumer Attitude Survey on Water Quality Issues.
Pepsi and Coke have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get us to drink more water. The companies claim drinking their water will make you healthier and more beautiful. They associate their waters with celebrities, athletes, and models to entice you to buy more bottled water.
If A- listers drink expensive bottled water, you should too. If you are paying attention you will notice that most bottled water advertisements make the implication that tap water is unhealthy, by using words like ‘pure’ to describe their waters. This trick then implies that tap water is impure, thus attributing to the fear of tap.
The price of bottled water is extraordinarily higher than the price of tap water, but in most cases, the water quality is very similar. There is even a chance that an expensive bottle of water is just purified municipal tap water. The notion that tap water is bad has allowed bottled water purchases to skyrocket, and has given big bottlers such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi the chance to rake in billions of dollars.
In most cases, about 40% of bottled water is really just filtered tap water. Both Dasani and Aquafina derive their water from municipal sources. Aquafina includes on its labels that it is bottled from a public water source, but Dasani on the other hand, does not. Many labels portray a scenic escape where we wish our water came from, but in reality it is not from far very away.
A great example of bottle water companies caught in a lie is the 2006 Fiji Water advertisement. The magazine ad read, “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland.”
After seeing the ad, Ciaccia, the company responsible for managing Cleveland’s water system, had Fiji’s water tested. They found that both Fiji and Cleveland’s water met all federal standards, but the lab results found that Fiji Water contained volatile plastic compounds, 40 times more bacteria than are found in well-run municipal water systems, and over six micrograms per liter of arsenic.
Due to the fear of tap water, many drink bottled water assuming it is the healthier option. “Some people have gone to drinking bottled water literally because they are concerned about their water, and the problem is they are unaware of the fact that buying bottled water is not necessarily safe, that you end up being exposed to other chemical compounds,” cautioned Stephan King, (PH.D., M.P.H.) a toxicologist and epidemiologist with Toxicology Inc.
The information label lists all the nutritional aspects that water lacks, but there are still lots of things in our water. On the contrary, bottled water can actually lead to health concerns for those with a weak immune system, such as the elderly, infants, and cancer, transplant, and HIV/AIDS patients.
On the other hand, only 7% drink bottled water based on taste. Usually a concoction of minerals are added to bottled water to make it taste good. “Some minerals are required for a decent taste. By necessity, therefore, Coca-Cola then adds a carefully prepared mix of minerals- ‘pixie dust’ some in the industry call it- back into the water to create a finished product with a standardized taste, no matter where the water originated or was processed.”
So a bottle of Dasani is going to taste exactly the same no matter where the source water came from. This is unlike tap water, where each source and region has a distinct taste. When taken out of its plastic bottle, numerous surveys have shown most people cannot distinguish between bottled waters or between tap and bottled water when served at the same temperature.
Nestlé pumps 114 billion gallons of groundwater that would feed into Lake Michigan every year, and Coke and Pepsi made an agreement with Detroit to bottle and ship Great Lakes water. What about the people who rely on the Lakes for their drinking water?
The big businesses: Nestlé, Coke and Pepsi, provide exactly what they claim; big business for the community. The companies employ a large number of people, so it is hard for governments to have to choose between environmental concerns or unemployment.
Should we protect people’s jobs, or protect the natural environment?
It would be equally hard to try and do away with municipal drinking water systems and only drink bottled. The switch “would be enormously expensive for the society as a whole. It would leave vast quantities of Americans with the Hobson’s choice of paying more for drinking water or relying on a public supply that could be increasingly inferior if it were abandoned by the elected officers and government decision makers,” says the NRDC’s Eric Goldstein.
Even so, most laws do not require new buildings to be built with access to public water fountains. “Well-maintained fountains are becoming about as scarce as working pay phones.”
The single-serve bottle is not just convenient because it can be thrown away, but also because there usually is no other option. It has become a challenge to find a public water fountain these days, even in areas like schools and sports arenas.
The bottled water industry has spent their money making their product as convenient as possible. The public is ultimately being forced to purchase bottled water because some buildings no longer accommodate for the free public water that used to be so popular and convenient.
For instance, let’s look at the construction of the new University of Central Florida’s football stadium, which was completed and opened in 2007. On opening day, with a crowd of 45,622 and a temperature of around 100 degrees, people became thirsty. Ironically, the new $54 million stadium was built without a single water fountain. Security allowed no one to bring in their own water and the only water available was in a bottle for a purchase of $3.
The concessions ran out of bottled water before the game ended and 18 people had to be taken to the hospital while 60 were treated for heat-related illness. The stadium should have been built with at least 20 water fountains under the 2004 Florida building code which requires one water fountain for every 1,000 seats. A spokesperson for the International Code Council in Washington said, “Selling bottled water out of a concession stand is not what the code meant.”
Since water is vital to life on this planet, it should be expected that drinking a bottle of it would be beneficial to your body. Unfortunately, this water could be laced with PET and BPA that has leached from the plastic containers that hold it. Both PET and BPA can cause serious health issues. Even those who just live near bottling plants are experiencing heightened health concerns.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the regulatory agency behind the public water supplies of surface water through the Safe Drinking Water Act. Bottled drinking water on the other hand mainly comes from groundwater, but since many municipalities already use surface water as their source, and some bottlers use municipality sources, bottled water can come from surface water as well.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a packaged food under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The EPA then creates the standards for tap water that is supplied by public suppliers, while the FDA creates standards for bottled water based off the EPA standards.
The reason the two waters are regulated under different entities is because bottled water did not truly exist when the laws were being drafted. “The federal agencies given oversight over our drinking water have no authority over bottled water- a product never anticipated by the drafters of the original federal drinking water laws. Instead the FDA regulates bottled water because it is considered a ‘food product’ sold in individual containers.”
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires the EPA to establish primary and secondary national standards for public water systems to control the level of contaminants in drinking water. National primary regulations are legally enforceable standards of contaminant levels, while national secondary regulations are non-enforceable standards that affect the aesthetic or cosmetic qualities of the water, such as taste, odor, and color. The EPA has national primary drinking water regulations for 88 contaminants. The SDWA also requires public water systems to release annual water quality reports to their customers that summarize local water quality about the water’s source, quality, and contaminants. These public water quality reports can be accessed online at anytime. The SDWA even provides provisions to protect groundwater sources, funds for water system upgrades, and assessment of drinking water sources to contamination.
Accordingly, tap water is rigorously tested under such EPA supervision. Tap water that comes from a public supplier requires disinfection, hundreds of tests per month for bacteria, pathogen filtration, no confirmed E. coli and Fecal Coliform, testing for Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and one per quarter testing for synthetic organic chemicals.
Bottled water does not have such regulation.
There are even certain regulated contaminants that must be monitored in city tap water and not in bottled water. Some of these contaminants include asbestos, bromate, Di (2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate, and Haloacetic acids. There is also a long list of unregulated contaminants for tap water that do not have a maximum contaminant limit, but still must be measured. Some of the unregulated contaminants that are monitored in tap water and not in bottled water include Dibromomethane, Chlorotoluene, and Dichloropropene.
On the other hand, bottled water is not as strictly regulated under the FDA. Bottled water regulation is also filled with loopholes that allow some waters to be unreliable. For example, water that is packaged and sold in the same state is exempt from FDA regulations, and that includes 60-70% of the bottled water sold in the United States. FDA’s review chemist in food safety, Lauren Robin, explains, “If it is produced in Maine, and sold within Maine, it is not under FDA jurisdiction. We regulate products that are in interstate commerce. That means products that move from state to state.”
Bottled water is tested significantly less for contaminants and purity than tap water. The FDA allows for E. coli and Fecal Coliform contamination, unlike tap water. Bottled water does not have to be tested for Cryptosporidium and Giardia either.
The reason the FDA has no standard for Cryptosporidium is because bottled water comes from either a municipal source or spring water, which is also groundwater, and thus should be protected from such contamination. Bottlers do not have to test for it because they just assume that the contaminants aren’t there
But bottlers are not invincible, and one should not assume so. The EPA has even found 27 percent of groundwater wells studied to sometimes have viral contamination. The Agency’s report states, “EPA determined that there is the potential for ground water to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria or viruses, or both, and that the presence of fecal indicators can demonstrate a pathway for pathogenic enteric bacteria or viruses to enter ground water sources.” Since bottlers assume the contaminants are not there, they are not testing for them, or doing anything proactive about it.
A July 2007 report on general food safety from the House Energy and Commerce Committee states, “FDA has no rules governing testing protocols, record retention. . . manufacturing, quality assurance and control, or the right to examine any records that a food processing firm chooses to keep voluntarily.” According to William K. Hubbard, a former FDA assistant commissioner, most domestic plants are inspected only once every 5 to 10 years. That is not nearly enough to provide safe drinking water to consumers.
The rules are not even rules; they are suggestions as in Title 21, part 129, section 35 of the FDA regulations, which specifies details for testing bottled water, states: “Analysis of the sample may be performed for the plant by competent commercial laboratories (e.g., EPA and State-certified laboratories).
Should we be drinking bottled water that does not have to be tested?
Often, we are mislead by the pristine pictures on the labels of our bottled water. It probably was not bottled on the top of an untouched glacier. Instead, some bottles have been found to contain benzene, mold, sodium hydroxide, kerosene, styrene, algae, yeast, tetrahydrofuran, sand, Fecal Coliforms and other forms of bacteria, elevated chlorine, ‘filth’, glass particles, sanitizer, and even crickets.
In 2009, the documentary, Tapped, produced an independent study of what is really in bottled water with the help of Dr. King. In one study, they used bottles bought off the shelves at a grocery store. What they found horrified Dr. King. Test America found that their store-bought samples contained toluene, a constituent in gasoline and has been used in paint thinners.
This neurotoxic agent can be linked to adverse reproductive effects. In the second study, they sampled bottled water that had been left in the trunk of a car for one week. The test identified styrene, a cancer causing agent that can also cause adverse reproductive effects, in the water. Both toluene and styrene are monitored under the SDWA. Additionally, three different types of phthalates were found: diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate, and di-n-octyl phthalate. Phthalates are known to cause dysfunction in the fetus and adverse reproduction outcomes for males and females.
Adrianna Quintero, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, revealed that, “It really concerns me when I see mothers blindly trusting bottled water and handing their children bottles of water. Putting their complete trust in a product without so much as questioning, what am I giving my child?”
Even more frightening than what is in our water, is that we do not know how these contaminants will affect human health in the long run. Melissa Jarrell, (PH.D.) assistant professor of criminology at Texas A&M University, believes, “We don’t know what the long term consequences are to this type of exposure. So people think when they’re drinking bottled water, that they’re getting a health product. They’re not conditioned to think, well, maybe there is something in the plastic. And then we trust government, we trust industry, when they say everything is okay, we say okay sounds good to us.” Even worse is that the scientists who work for product defense companies are never going to produce a study, let alone publish one, that finds an unflattering result. Their entire job depends on it, alleged David Michaels. These bottled water companies are working hard to keep the public from knowing what can be in their drinking water.
Not only do plastic bottles cause consequences to our physical health, but to our planet’s health as well. There is the cost of extracting oil, a finite resource, to produce the plastic bottles. Even producing the bottles requires a large amount of water, plus the water that is extracted to drink. Then there is the cost of what to do with all of those bottles, especially when not nearly enough of them get recycled. We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.
The problem is that most Americans do not recycle, or do not have the access to it. Even though most bottles are recyclable, most of them never are.
If it does not make its final resting place in a landfill, it could either be incinerated, or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. “Most single-serve bottles are either buried in landfills or burned in incinerators, or they make their way to the far corners of the
earth: blown underneath train platforms, into the back of caves and alleys, along roadways, onto beaches, andout to the middle of the ocean, where the containers break into tiny pieces that sea creatures mistake for food.”
Essentially extracting all this ground water to be bottled has had an effect on the amount of water available in certain locations. Water levels are dropping, or even disappearing completely due to constant pumping. Not just pumping for bottled water use, but any use of water is creating visible strain on water bodies. “Already larger bodies of water across the United States are changing in ways that worry scientists.
Oil is a main ingredient in the creation of plastic bottles. Since we have already passed our peak of oil consumption, there is no longer enough to keep up with our consumption, especially with the world’s population dramatically increasing. Using all this oil to make single-serve plastic water bottles just so we can enjoy it on the go seems kind of silly.
For many, there has been a backlash over the use of oil, not water. As addressed in Bottlemania, 17 million barrels (714 million gallons) of oil a year are used to make plastic water bottles for the U.S. market. That oil could fuel 1.3 million cars for one year.
Bottled water has its advantages of being convenient, but has the disadvantage of being expensive. Making bottled water a part of everyday life is a personal choice. The water may taste better, and it may look cooler, but that does not necessarily mean it is the better option. It is worth the price when it is the only option. When there is an option, is it worth spending that kind of money for a product that flows cheaply from your kitchen faucet?
Bottled water does have its place-it’s useful in emergencies and essential for people whose health can’t tolerate even filtered water. But it’s often no better than tap water, its environmental and social price is high, and it lets our public guardians off the hook for protecting watersheds, stopping polluters, upgrading treatment and distribution infrastructure, and strengthening treatment standards.”
The most important controversy in bottled water is whether or not the industry should be able to commodify a basic human right. All human beings should be allowed easy access to clean drinking water. “We all have a right to clean water. And we all need to acknowledge that no water is pure, that all water is recycled. There’s no point in skirting the issues and fudging the facts: in some places, at some times, bottled water may be of higher quality than tap. But that doesn’t mean we should all rely on it.”
Bottled water has a time and place, but it should not be our only source of drinking water. We already have access to clean drinking water, it comes out of our kitchen sink or the dispenser on the refrigerator door, we do not need to drive to the store to access it.“Suburban shoppers in America lug cases of plastic water bottles from the grocery store back to homes supplied with unlimited piped potable water in a sad and unintentional parody of the girls and women in Africa, who spend countless backbreaking hours carrying containers of filthy water from distant contaminated sources to homes with no water at all.”
Sounds ironic, right?
The United States public has access to too much of a good thing and most do not realize how thankful we should be for it.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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