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Is Bottled Water Really Pure?

Bottled water companies make millions off people who believe their products are purer than tap water. However, most consumers do not realize that these products are in fact less regulated than tap water.

A report from the General Accountability Office pointing this out was just one piece of ammunition unleashed at the bottled water industry at a hearing of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that submitted a second report to the committee, said in a statement: "Many people assume bottled water is healthier and safer to drink than ordinary tap water. But some companies have lured consumers away from the tap with claims of health and purity that aren't backed by public data."

Over the past several years, bottled water has been recalled due to contamination by arsenic, bromate, cleaning compounds, mold, and bacteria.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Bottled water may be one of the most effective swindles out there. Marketing, of course, has played a major role. For example, in 2006, Pepsi (owner of Aquafina) spent $20 million suggesting that Americans should “drink more water.”

It worked. The following year Americans drank nearly 7 percent more bottled water than they did in 2006, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Last year, U.S. bottled water consumption reached nearly 9 billion gallons, raking in revenues of more than $11 billion. Not bad for a product people can get almost for free from their own kitchen tap.

The belief driving sales of bottled water is that it must be cleaner, and therefore healthier. But that’s where we’ve all been fooled.

The Amazing Bottled Water Scam

There are many problems with bottled water, but the most obvious is the fact that you’re paying a premium for something that is in many cases indistinguishable from regular tap water. 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 must actually adhere to stricter purity standards than the bottled water industry.

Case in point: In one test performed by the Environmental Working Group, 38 low-level contaminants were found in bottled water, with each of the 10 tested brands containing an average of eight chemicals.

Disinfection byproducts (DBPs), caffeine, Tylenol, nitrate, industrial chemicals, arsenic, and bacteria were all detected.

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.

Part of the problem is that while the EPA requires large public water supplies to test for contaminants as often as 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.

In addition, the General Accountability Office (GAO) report states that “the FDA does not have the specific statutory authority to require bottlers to use certified laboratories for water quality tests or to report test results, even if violations of the standards are found.”

Toxic Water, in a Bottle

Probably the worst of the toxins found in both tap and some bottled water are the disinfection byproducts (DBPs), such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). DBPs are formed when chlorine reacts with natural organic matter like decaying vegetation in the source water during water treatment.

Adding chlorine to the water kills or inactivates harmful microorganisms that cause diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and giardiasis. Its use has virtually eradicated these diseases.

However, this water treatment technique clearly has serious drawbacks. Scientists are now starting to discover just how toxic these disinfection byproducts really are.

DBPs are about 1,000 more toxic than chlorine and trihalomethanes (THMs) are classified as 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 dramatically 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.

To put it another way: Disinfectant byproducts are so toxic that simply swimming in a chlorinated pool presents “an unacceptable cancer risk,” according to one recent study. THMs formed in chlorinated swimming pools have also been linked to spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital malformations, even at lower levels.

So why on earth would you pay up to 1,900 times more for the same amount of health risk as you encounter drinking tap water?

And when you take into account the health hazards imparted by the chemicals leaching out of the plastic bottle itself, then bottled water really doesn’t make sense anymore.

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere. Clean Water, Not So Much

When you consider the massive amounts of non-biodegradable plastic required for all these billions of gallons of bottled water being consumed each year, it’s no wonder we have a plastic “stew” twice the size of Texas swirling through the Pacific Ocean.

Another fact to chew on is this: A bottle that holds 1 liter of water requires 5 liters of water in its manufacturing process.

So not only is the consumption of bottled water polluting our fragile world, it’s also profoundly wasteful of our natural resources.

Your Healthiest Water Options

Your best source of water is having an artesian well in your back yard as that is some of the finest water in the world. Very few people are fortunate enough to have this, however, so after many years of careful research I have concluded that filtered tap water, using a reverse osmosis filter is currently your next best option.

I know some people have great comments on ionized alkaline water but I am very skeptical, especially in light of new research that I have recently learned that will be published later this year. I am concerned that these may cause some significant long term problems and are probably best avoided. .

Remember that you cannot 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 DBPs, “parts per billion.”

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

Additionally, since your skin easily absorbs chemicals in water -- as illustrated in the study on swimming pool contamination and cancer risk mentioned above – purifying your drinking water alone may not be enough. For optimal protection, you’ll want to install a system that filters all the water in your home.

For a more thorough look at what your options are, please review my previous article, Tap Water Toxins: Discover Your 3 Best Solutions, Straight from the Expert...