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Bottled Is Not Better

Bottled Is Not Better

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Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2018 9:43 am

Nearly 64 percent of bottled water products sold today comes from municipal tap water sources and can cost up to 2,000 times more than the price of tap water, according to a new report entitled, “Take Back the Tap.” The report was released Feb. 20 by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion healthy food and clean water for all.

Many Americans believe the myth that bottled water is purer and healthier than tap water, thanks to advertising, marketing and lobbying efforts by the water bottling industry. And yet, that same industry is not subject to the stringent safety monitoring that the federal government requires of municipal tap water providers, the report pointed out.


Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a ‘food’ under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but does not regulate bottled water.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that the FDA considers bottled water to be a low priority because it is seen as a lower health risk than most food products. Thus, the FDA allocates fewer resources to oversight and inspection of water bottling facilities and, instead, focuses more on foods.

By contrast, the Safe Drinking Water Act gives the EPA authority to establish and enforce health standards for contaminants in public drinking water, to require public notification of violations, and to distribute water quality reports to the public.


The result is that Americans spend approximately $16 billion per year on pre-packaged water that is no better than tap water, and might be more likely to be contaminated, the report disclosed. Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and The Environmental Working Group all confirmed that bottled water contamination is a concern. When 10 major brands were tested, scientists found that 38 different chemicals (averaging eight contaminants per brand) could be found in the bottled waters.

Nine of the 10 brands contained industrial synthetic chemicals that could cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, and neurotoxicity, the researchers divulged.

In addition, the plastic bottles themselves contain toxins that can leach into the water. Those toxins include acetaldehyde (a carcinogen that can cause genetic mutations), antimony (with endocrine-disrupting effects) and formaldehyde.


“Take Back the Tap” presented an enlightening image to convey the amount of plastic that was used in making water bottles during 2016: That plastic would fill the Empire State Building in New York more than 1.3 times per year. This quantity is 43 percent more than the 2.8 billion pounds of plastic used for bottles in 2007.

In other terms, it means that the bottled water industry used approximately four billion pounds of plastic for packaging in 2016, which required an energy input equal to at least 45 million barrels of oil.

In 2015, according to the report, an estimated 70 percent of plastic water bottles were not recycled. Most of those bottles ended up as litter in landfills or as waste in oceans and surface water, polluting ecosystems, marine life and seabird species.

It is interesting to note that in 2011 the National Park Service banned bottled water in the nation’s parks. The policy successfully prevented an estimated 2 million plastic bottles per year from entering the waste stream. However, the Trump administration reversed the ban in 2017 – after increased lobbying expenditures by the water bottling industry.


The new report also pointed out, “When bottlers are not selling municipal water, they are pumping and selling common water resources that belong to the public, harming the environment and depleting community water supplies.”

Food & Water Watch, through its mission, stands up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocates for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects the environment. Its new report specifically noted the depletion of California’s scarce water supplies during its recent historic drought, and mentioned that one multinational company in particular pumped, bottled and sold water that could have been used by nearly 2,200 households per year.

The report also documented that the president of a U.S. food company that sells bottled water bragged, “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”


As a result of research conducted, Food & Water Watch advocates passage of the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act. This legislation would allocate federal funds to renovate public water infrastructure nationwide, to ensure renewed public confidence in tap water and to avert a water affordability crisis.

The report concluded, “The WATER Act will simultaneously deliver water justice to the millions of people in the United States who lack access to safe water, while creating nearly a million jobs.”

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