Mar 10 2011
Yes, I had to do it. I try to teach environmental science without preaching, but this one topic is hardest for me to avoid. There are probably hundreds of other posts out there on the topic, but I still feel the need to let this out (sorry as it is a bit long with the 3 video clips). If you agree with my arguments, forward the blog link to a parent or friend…
I was born in 1968. I am trying hard to remember (without a Google search) on when I first saw bottled water for sale. Can you? I cannot recall bottled water for sale in college in the late 80s, or when I was in the Army in the early 90s. Must have been the late 90s…at least in my memory.
I found this graph, but I have failed in locating the original source (I think it is at the bottom):
Ok, regardless of my memory, the stuff has become very popular….
So, why my opposition? Well, I don’t drink bottled water for FIVE reasons:
1. Cost. This may be the ultimate rip-off. Let’s say you can buy a 16-ounce bottle for 69 cents…8 of those bottles equals $5.52/gallon (8 x 16 = 128 ounces or 1 gallon). If you drink one a day for 365 days, that’s $252/year on water alone and $2,520 dollars for 10 years! It is more like you paid $1.50, not 69 cents–so double that! Now, last time I checked my tap water costs $1.25/ccf (or about 750 gallons) at the lowest price tier. Not really sure I need to do the math for you, but seems like I’ve got safe water at less than a penny a gallon? Ok, it is 0.16 cents/gallon if you must see the math. Is there really any need to extrapolate my tap water costs out to a year or ten? And, that rate includes what the city charges me for stormwater and sewage treatment facilities–so the price just drinking water is even less.
2. Safety-Water quality. Ok, lots has been published about this over the last 10 years. You check it out for yourself. First, there was the NRDC report in 1999. On the issue of water quality (safety), here is the NRDC answer to the question “is bottled water safer than tap water?:”
“No, not necessarily. NRDC conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry and the safety standards that govern it, including a comparison of national bottled water rules with national tap water rules, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. Our conclusion is that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle — sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”
So, that was 1999. Has much changed since then? I guess you could start with the EPA, if you trust the government. Here is an answer from the FAQ section of the EPA website on Ground Water & Drinking Water:
Is bottled water safer than tap water?
Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water. EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water systems; the Food and Drug Administration sets bottled water standards based on EPA’s tap water standards. Bottled water and tap water are both safe to drink if they meet these standards, although people with severely compromised immune systems and children may have special needs. Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all. Bottled water costs much more than tap water on a per gallon basis. Bottled water is valuable in emergency situations (such as floods and earthquakes), and high quality bottled water may be a desirable option for people with weakened immune systems. Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully read its label to understand what they are buying, whether it is a better taste, or a certain method of treatment. More information on bottled water is available from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) (www.bottledwater.org/), which represents most US bottlers.
On top of all that, some bottled water is missing flouride treatment which most cities add to prevent tooth decay from bacteria. While toothpaste does contain flouride, those that drink only bottled water are getting considerably less floride. Note: The benefits of flouride is hotly debated…that’s another story. Regardless, the EPA requires Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities to send me a report on my drinking water quality each year. You can access the 2009 report here. Does your favorite bottled water company send you these?
3. Dangers of plastics: I try to live by the precautionary principle on this one. Yes, there are many fears about the dangers of chemicals that may leach out of plastic bottles. Most of this is “frontier science” at the moment–it will probably take years for us to have solid data on health effects. The folks that make the plastic resin (PET) that holds most bottled water say the stuff is safe. A recent study by a professor at the University of Heidelberg documented antimony values (in ppt) hundreds of times higher than that of pristine groundwater. Long term exposure of antimony can cause such as headache, dizzness, depression and in large doses, violent vomiting and death…Others fear the leaching of pthalates into bottled water. Some studies suggest some pthalates act as endocrine disruptors-in particular mimicing the female hormone estrogen.
Even if you don’t buy into the possible health effects on humans, consider the effects of all that plastic on the ecosystem. Oil-based plastics are not biodegradable, but they are photodegradable–that means they will simply break into smaller pieces due to weathering in the sun. So, plastics never go away, they just fragment into smaller pieces. All of this plastic has a tremendous impact on marine ecosystems. Watch this 7 minute TEDTalks segment by Captain Charles Moore for a quick lesson on plastics in the Pacific Ocean:
*To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, click here.
4. Infrastructure: In Charlotte, North Carolina, my water bill pays for the water treatment facilities and pipes that carry drinking water (as well as for stormwater drains/pipes and wastewater treatment). My property taxes do not. So, for every dollar I give to bottled water companies, that is a dollar less Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has to treat and transport my tap water. So, as bottled water companies prosper and grow, our public water infrastructure crumbles…The America Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently graded our drinking water infrastructure at “D-.” According to ASCE, we face an $11 BILLION shortfall each year in shoring up this infrastructure. How will we pay for it if more and more dollars go to soft drink companies peddling bottled water?
5. Taste: I honestly cannot tell a difference. But, yes, some folks think bottled water tastes better…I think this short video from the Showtime series Penn and Teller: Bullshit puts the issue to rest:
So, what do you think? Do you buy bottled water? Why? Which of these 5 reasons would you disagree with? If you refuse to drink bottled water, why? If you’ve never taken a stand, do so now! Post a response/comment…
Ok..so I am biased? Here is a rebuttal from the Competitive Enterprise Institute :
Note: “The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government. We believe that the best solutions come from people making their own choices in a free marketplace, rather than government intervention. Since it was founded by Fred L. Smith, Jr. in 1984, CEI has grown to a team of over 40 policy experts and staff.” This boilerplate was taken from the www.cei.org.