Health & Safety
Bottled water cannot be considered a safe, healthy product. Here's why:
1. Limited Testing
The FDA assigns a low priority to testing bottled water, with the equivalent of only 2.6 workers assigned to testing the 9 billion gallons/50 billion bottles sold in the US in 2008. It largely relies on the $15 billion industry to police itself. Most bottled water (60%) escapes FDA regulation as it is bottled and sold in the same state. FDA regulation of imported bottled water is even more limited. Bottled water companies are not required to publish their testing results and most don’t.
In 2008, the Environmental Working Group sampled 10 brands of bottled water and found an average of 8 contaminants in each brand; 38 different contaminants were identified, including chemicals known to cause cancer. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute compiled a list of over 100 bottled water recalls to supplement his 2010 book Bottled and Sold: The Story of Our Obsession with Bottled Water. Contaminants found ranged from algae, yeast, mold, sand, and filth to coliform bacteria, arsenic and benzene. In most cases, the recalls were announced to the public weeks or months after the fact; in some cases the public was never notified.
By contrast, Sudbury’s tap water is highly regulated by the EPA. The Sudbury Water District tests its systems continually, and alerts residents to potential issues immediately. While the bottled water companies are keeping the results of their testing behind closed doors, the Water Department publishes its annual report in full each year and actively distributes it to all of Sudbury. Choosing local water means choosing health, safety, and accountability.
2. Toxic Chemicals
A growing body of evidence indicates that endocrine disruptors leach from plastic bottles into bottle contents. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a notorious endocrine disruptor found in polycarbonate plastic of which Nalgene bottles and 5-gallon containers of water used to be made. The specific endocrine disruptors linked with bottled water are phthalates. Di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a plasticizer commonly associated with PVC pipe, has been found in bottles of water.
Also, two of the phthalates found in bottled water, di-ethyl-hexyl phthalate (DEHP) and di-butyl phthalate (DBP) are listed as “Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity” on the website of the State of California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Proposition 65, approved by CA voters in 1986, requires that businesses provide consumer warnings on their products if they contain chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Bottled water should be labeled under these guidelines.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in conjunction with the World Health Organization recently published a study entitled “The State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals –2012”. From the Executive Summary: “It is clear that a large number of all non-communicable diseases have their origin during development. It is also clear that one of the important risk factors for disease is exposure to EDCs during development. Exposure to EDCs during development can, as demonstrated in animal models and in an increasing number of human studies, result in increased susceptibility to, and incidence of, a variety of diseases. These include some of the major human diseases that are increasing in incidence and prevalence around the world.” While more research is needed, enough has been done to generate concern about phthalates and other endocrine disruptors. It makes sense to limit our exposure where we can.
The chart below offers a comprehensive look at the key characteristics of the seven different plastic bottle types as compared with aluminum and steel containers. The chart points out that not all plastics leach hazardous chemicals. Also, as described above, Plastic #1 has been found to leach phthalates. Therefore, it is best to use bottle types Plastic 2, 4, and 5 or Aluminum or Stainless Steel containers.