It’s my view that the concern felt among consumers about contaminants in bottled water is exaggerated.
Bottled water is criticized by some prominent environmental organizations. After all we’re talking about water in a bottle costing more than gasoline. Bottled water is also shipped long distances. Due to the environmental and social cost bottled water has been subject to intense scrutiny. As a result, many environmentally conscious consumers now believe that bottled water is unsafe.
As an ecologist with extensive experience with water I think that impression is unfounded. I’ve reviewed the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study that listed contaminants found in bottled water and conclude that for the most part bottled water is safe.
How will you decide which bottled water to drink this summer?
It’s my opinion that bottled water has a legitimate place on the grocery shelf. I buy bottled water when I travel. What’s the alternative? I’m not going to drink tap water because I know that’s carcinogenic.
Summer has arrived and it’s hot or soon will be. At some point soon you’ll be traveling, at the beach, or out somewhere and confronted with the choice of which bottled water to purchase. How do you decide which bottled is the best?
NRDC hired three independent labs to test over a thousand bottles of water from 103 brands. And yes, some of those had contamination. According to NRDC, at least one sample of 25% of the brands tested had some form of contamination. In other words, some 26 bottles (or .3%) of the 1000 tested, showed some form of contamination.
But the concern among environmentally or health conscious consumers today about drinking water bottled in plastic would suggest that all bottled water is unsafe. In fact bottled water is relatively safe to drink and safer, in my view, than unfiltered tap water.
There are three kinds of problems with bottled water.
The first of these is due to contaminants in the water source and the second problem is the plastic compounds that can leach into the water from the bottle itself. A third problem is contamination with bacteria, which could be due to a contaminated source or unsanitary handling.
This article will deal with the first two potential problems. I didn’t see any discernible pattern to the contamination in the NRDC study. In other words it wasn’t a problem with one brand or even one type of water.
It appeared to me that, just like public tap water, some bottled water contained the contaminants present in the local water source. If these were intended to be filtered out, they were not. This was the exception rather than the rule and the NRDC study may have exposed this to the point where those sources have been treated or eliminated.
The second issue with bottled water is leaching. Some plastics contain Phthalate (DEHP) and those that don’t may contain other chemicals that are also harmful. Studies have shown that these chemicals can leach into water or food. Other studies then prove that these can mimic estrogen in the body and cause health issues. One of these health issues is the feminization of males.
But this does not mean that you have to avoid all plastic. It does mean that you should be cautious and thoughtful. In general it is my view that bottled water is actually safer than unfiltered tap water.
Our limited “snapshot” testing, and that published in a few other recent surveys of bottled water, indicate that most bottled water is of good quality. However, our testing also found that about one fourth of the tested bottled water brands contained microbiological or chemical contaminants in at least some samples at levels sufficiently high to violate enforceable state standards or warning levels.
Studies such as that performed by NRDC provide a great public service by forcing bottled water companies to be more vigilant in their testing and monitoring of source water. Some of the bottled water in the NRDC study came from contaminated sources. This same danger holds true for any spring.
I drink bottled spring water when I travel.
Otherwise I drink appropriately filtered tap water. When I stop by a store to buy bottled water I look for local spring water. Spring water may contain contaminants but because water is the universal solvent it seems logical to me that spring water is less likely to leach chemicals from the plastic bottle.
Of course if I can find spring water in glass, I buy that, but that’s pretty rare. I look at the labels of the various waters for sale. My preference is to drink local spring water with a slightly alkaline pH.
Many of the bottled waters available today consist of local city water treated with reverse osmosis to remove contaminants. I tend to avoid this type of water because it seems logical to me that this water will be more aggressive and therefore more likely to leach plastic. This is intuitive on my part and may not be true but this is what I would expect.
Whatever you do, don’t buy water from the cases piled out in the hot sun in front of a grocery store on a summer day. If there’s water with phthalate in it, there it is. Studies have shown that plastic compounds leach into water when heated.
I’m not endorsing plastic bottles or bottled water.
However, people have to hydrate and bottled water is a better choice than soft drinks or other sugary alternatives. I am trying to assist you in making an informed choice that will minimize or eliminate the health risk associated with drinking bottled water.
For a more complete discussion of the types of bottled water visit: Which Bottled Water Is The Best? You’ll also find a link to a report in which I recommend specific regional (U.S. only) bottled waters for only 99 cents, less than the cost of a bottle of water.
James P. McMahon studied ecology at the University of Illinois because he is curious about the natural world around him. He fell in love with rivers at an early age and then learned all about them. He’s also fallen in love with yoga and travels to yoga festivals and workshops. He has a passion for learning and contributing to a healthier planet and healthier people. He works from his home overlooking the Santa Clara River in southern Utah. You can learn more about Jim and his work at Home Water Purification Systems by Sweetwater LLC.