Bottled Water Not So Pure

water, bottled water, disinfection byproducts, trihalomethanes, THM, HAA, Chlorine, chloramines, chlorine dioxideBottled water isn't necessarily any purer than the water you get from your tap -- it's just more expensive.

The Environmental Working Group tested 10 major bottled-water brands. Thirty-eight low-level contaminants turned up in the water, with each brand containing an average of eight chemicals. Disinfection products, caffeine, Tylenol, nitrate, industrial chemicals, arsenic and bacteria were all detected.

Two brands contained disinfection byproducts at levels that exceeded California's bottled-water standards, and bottles of Wal-Mart's Sam's Choice bought in the Bay Area contained trihalomethanes, which have been linked to cancer and miscarriages.

In fact, the Wal-Mart water and a brand sold on the East Coast by the Giant supermarket chain were “chemically indistinguishable from tap water.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The United States sold 2.6 billion cases, not bottles, of bottled water in 2006, according to Beverage Digest, which equates to U.S. consumers spending about $15 billion on bottled water in one year. Worldwide sales top out at more than $35 billion.

However, the market for bottled water may be drying up. Brands like Aquafina and Poland Spring are now experiencing a sales drought. After almost a decade of triple and then double-digit growth, sales volume grew less than 1 percent for the first half of 2008, Beverage Digest reports.

Personally, I feel this is good news. Not only is paying for bottled water like paying for gravity, but the plastic chemicals leaching out of the bottles have now been proven highly toxic to your body, and our landfills are overflowing with plastic bottles that do not biodegrade. Last but not least, paying premium prices for bottled water, thinking it’s more pure than your local water supply, has also been proven to be a complete fallacy.

The Questionable Safety of Bottled Water

The fact that water is bottled is NOT an assurance of purity. In fact, about 40 percent of bottled water IS regular tap water, which may or may not have received any additional treatment.

Most municipal tap water -- though generally far from pure -- must actually adhere to stricter purity standards than the bottled water industry.

In a previous study, a third of more than 100 bottled water brands tested for contaminants were found to contain chemicals like arsenic and carcinogenic compounds at levels exceeding state or industry standards for municipal water supplies.

Additionally, while the EPA requires large public water supplies to test for contaminants up to several times a day, the FDA requires private bottlers to test for contaminants only once a week, once a year, or once every four years, depending on the contaminant.

Fluoride (a highly toxic bone poison that should be avoided at all costs) is usually present in both tap water and filtered bottled water. And the toxic metal antimony (a silvery white metal of medium hardness) has also been found in many commercially bottled water brands.

Pharmaceutical drugs are now also showing up both in tap water and bottled water. But at least you can filter most drugs out of your tap water by installing a good water filter…

But perhaps even worse than some of the above contaminants are the disinfection byproducts, such as trihalomethanes, which the Environmental Working Group also found in samples of bottled water.

Water Treatment -- Creating Safe Drinking Water, or Creating Poisons?

Chlorine, chloramines, and chlorine dioxide are some of the more common disinfection techniques used at water treatment facilities today. The primary reason for adding chlorine to water is to make it safe to drink by killing or inactivating harmful microorganisms that cause diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and giardiasis. 

Unfortunately, over the years scientists have discovered that byproducts form when these disinfectants react with natural organic matter like decaying vegetation in the source water.

The most common disinfectant byproducts formed when chlorine is used are:

  • trihalomethanes (THMs)
  • haloacetic acids (HAAs) 

Trihalomethanes include four different chemicals: chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane. The EPA regulates these compounds. The maximum annual average of THMs in your local water supply cannot exceed 80 ppb (parts-per-billion).

The maximum annual average of HAAs permitted by EPA regulations is 60 ppb.

Trihalomethanes (THMs) are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they’ve been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. They’ve also been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, and human studies suggest that lifetime consumption of chlorine-treated water can more than double the risk of bladder and rectal cancers in certain individuals.

One such study found that smoking men who drank chlorinated tap water for more than 40 years faced double the risk of bladder cancer compared with smoking men who drank non-chlorinated water.

A second study found that rates for rectal cancers for both sexes escalated with duration of consumption of chlorinated water. Individuals on low-fiber diets who also drank chlorinated water for over 40 years more than doubled their risk for rectal cancer, compared with lifetime drinkers of non-chlorinated water.

Disinfectant byproducts can also wreak havoc with your health even if you don’t ingest the chlorine-treated water. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Sciences earlier this year found that swimming in a chlorinated pool presented an unacceptable cancer risk.

They concluded that the cancer risk of trihalomethanes from various routes in descending order was:  

  1. skin exposure while swimming
  2. gastro-intestinal exposure from tap water intake
  3. skin exposure to tap water
  4. gastro-intestinal exposure while swimming 

But the cancer risk from skin exposure while swimming was 94.18 percent of the total cancer risk resulting from being exposed to THMs!

THMs formed in chlorinated swimming pools have also been linked to spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital malformations, even at lower levels.

Your Healthiest Water Options

Your best bet for ensuring good health (and protecting the environment), is to filter your own water at home using a reverse osmosis filter.

Do not make the mistake of thinking you can tell if your water is safe or not by the way it looks, tastes, or smells. Some contaminants in water are so harmful they’re measured in “parts per million,” or as in the case of disinfection byproducts, “parts per billion.”

This means that just a drop of these poisons added to several gallons of water can be harmful to your health.

Keep in mind also that installing a filter to purify your drinking water alone may not be enough. Since your skin absorbs both water and chemicals -- as illustrated in the study on swimming pool contamination and cancer risk mentioned above -- you could still be exposing yourself to dangerous levels of contaminants when you:

  1. Shower or bathe
  2. Wash your hands
  3. Wash laundry
  4. Rinse fruits and vegetables
  5. Wash dishes, glasses, and other utensils

I have been working on coming up with some solid recommendations for specific water filtration systems for the past seven years. I continue to do research. There are many great options out there but I am looking for the best value, and highest quality, which provides an enormous challenge. However, I am getting closer, and I’m hopeful to provide a GREAT solution in the near future as I have finally been able to locate a water expert I can trust.  I found the person who invented the reverse osmosis filter for NASA.

More to come soon….