By Dr. Mercola
The recent lawsuit against Nestle Waters of North America alleges their bottled Poland Spring water is not spring water at all, but sourced from ordinary groundwater, much like the same stuff that comes directly out of your tap at home.1 The lengths to which Nestle has gone to protect their bottled water brand speaks to the love affair that Americans have developed for bottled water.
Water sold in a bottle may be labeled distilled, spring, mineral, artesian or sparkling to name a few. More than 17 million barrels of oil are used in the manufacture of bottled water and 50 billion water bottles are used and discarded every year.2 The cost of bottled water may be as much as 2,000 times more than tap water;3 eight glasses of water each day from your tap costs approximately 49 cents per year while the same amount in bottled water costs $1,400.4
Bottled water now holds the second largest share of the beverage market, well ahead of milk and beer.5 If you are looking for the most expensive bottled water, look for Acqua di Cristallo, which sells for nearly $50,0006 a bottle, sourced from France and stored in a 24-karat gold bottle with a sprinkling of gold dust for good measure.
Many buy and drink bottled water as they believe the quality of the water is better, cleaner and potentially better tasting. Bottled water companies count on this belief to drive sales. However, Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani account for 24 percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S. and both are bottled, purified municipal water.7 In fact, a report by Beverage Marketing Association states that nearly half of all bottled water is sourced from tap water.8
Nestle Under Fire for Poland Spring Water Source
According to a current class-action lawsuit, Poland Spring bottled water is a "colossal fraud." The suit alleges Nestle has been selling billions of gallons of regular groundwater to their customers and not water acquired from a clear, Maine spring.9 In point of fact, the lawsuit goes on to assert the water is not sourced from anything that fits the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) definition of "spring water."
Both the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are responsible for the safety of drinking water in the U.S.10 The EPA regulates tap water, while the FDA is responsible for the regulation of bottled water. Interestingly, the FDA states that bottled water may not contain other added ingredients except optionally "safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added …"11 According to these regulations the water labeled "spring water" must be from water that:
" … [F]lows naturally to the surface of the earth may be 'spring water.' Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. There shall be a natural force causing the water to flow to the surface through a natural orifice. The location of the spring shall be identified."
The current lawsuit alleges the water sources are not adequately identified and the original Poland Spring dried up 50 years ago. A spokeswoman for Nestle wrote that "Poland Spring is 100 percent spring water."12 However, following a settlement of another lawsuit alleging false advertisement of the brand, Jane Lazgin, director of corporate communications for Nestle, confirmed that a mere 30 percent of the water came from an area known as Poland Spring as the original spring had since dried up.13
Lazgin went on to say the remaining 70 percent came from other springs in the immediate area. However, contrary to Lazgin's statement, Nestle has a long-term contract14 with the town of Fryeburg, Maine, to draw up to 603,000 gallons of groundwater per day at the same rate as the citizens of the town.15 This water is the same water Fryeburg residents are drinking directly from their tap.
This lawsuit is only the latest in a string of legal actions against the bottled water company. In 2002, the class-action suit filed alleging false advertising was settled out of court when Nestle agreed to pay $10 million in donations to charities and discounts to consumers.16
Environmental Working Group Scores Bottled Water Brands
In 2011, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a bottled water scorecard,17 looking at bottled water companies' overall transparency and disclosure. The report asked three basic questions:
- What is the source of the water?
- Is it purified and, if so, how?
- Have tests found any contamination?
Unfortunately, among the 10 bestselling brands of bottled water in the U.S., including six Nestle brands, nine didn't have published answers to at least one of those questions. This survey evaluated 173 unique bottled water products and found the results had not improved since their last published report.
Of those bottles evaluated, 18 percent failed to list a location for the source of the water, 32 percent said nothing about the purification process used on the water and overall, half of the bottled water flunked the transparency test.18 According to the EWG:19
"Companies willing to ignore state law to keep information from their customers may have something to hide. Perhaps bottled water companies are banking on the state Attorney General's office turning a blind eye, focusing its limited resources on other issues. In the meantime, bottled water drinkers are left in the dark."
Privatization of Your Water Supply Driven by Financial Gain
Private corporations have now successfully made water a commodity and convenience desired by most people. Forbes calls the bottled water industry "a potential growth category that cannot be ignored."20 The volume of sales from bottled water is expected to overtake carbonated soft drinks as people look for "healthier" beverage choices. The bottled water industry profits nearly $86 billion from sales around the globe, including flavored water.21
The first bottle of water was sold in 1760 when Jackson's Spa sold bottles of mineral water for therapeutic uses.22 In recent decades, bottle companies have used advertising to manufacture greater demand for a product that is relatively free from a tap in the U.S. In 2000, Robert Morrison, vice chairperson of PepsiCo, said, "The biggest enemy is tap water."23
Susan Wellington, president of the Quaker Oats company beverage division that makes Gatorade, said: "When we're done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes."24
There have been great concerns over the use of bottled water for many years. Not only do the bottles end up polluting the oceans and waterways, but the bottles may leach chemicals into the water and the quality of the water is not strictly monitored. A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) came to the same conclusions:25
- Bottles contain phthalates: Unlike the EPA, which has at least set limits on phthalates in tap water supplies, the FDA has not.
- Testing quality: Although the FDA regulates bottled water supply, they do not have the authority to demand testing or to see results that may demonstrate violations of quality standards. In contrast, the EPA requires public drinking water systems to publish annual reports about their water quality testing.
- Energy demand: According to the GAO report: "Regarding the impact on U.S. energy demands, a recent peer-reviewed article noted that while the production and consumption of bottled water comprises a small share of total U.S. energy demand, it is much more energy-intensive than the production of public drinking water."
- Production: While the industry advertises clean, clear, pure, mountain-fresh water (depending upon the product you purchase), the manufacture of this product uses 17 million barrels of oil and nearly three times as much water to make a bottle, as it does to fill one. In other words, for each bottle of water filled, three bottles' worth of potable water are wasted (used in manufacture)
- Plastic: Plastic has proliferated in the past 70 years with nearly 300 million tons produced, half of which are single use products, such as beverage bottles;26 500 million plastic bottles are used every year, 215 metric tons of which have found their way into the oceans where they destroy plant and animal life.
The Sins of Bottled Water
According to a Gallop poll,27 nearly 84 percent of people worry at least a "fair amount," if not more, about whether their tap water is polluted. This is an important first step in recognizing the impact our choices have on the environment. However, consistently using bottled water is yet another poor choice as it also contributes to polluting waterways.
The problem lies in the power of advertising. It has created a desire for bottled water, which is unnecessary for many, but which many now use as a status symbol or for convenience. As water is essential to life, and tap water does contain some contaminants and pollutants, many are tricked into believing bottled water is a healthier option.
However, 50 percent of the bottled water sold comes from municipal water supplies and a good percentage of the rest is sourced from groundwater reservoirs, the places that many municipalities source their water before treatment. This means that many of the sources for bottled water come from the very same places the water from your tap is being sourced.
What's worse, bottled water is kept in plastic containers that are usually not stored in climate controlled warehouses or transported in refrigerated trucks. This means the chemicals in the plastics are more likely to leach into the water after heating. In a recent study28 examining antimony and bisphenol A that leached into bottled water after exposure to varying amounts of heat, researchers found concentrations of the chemicals in all of the bottles.
What Are Your Options?
In this short video I discuss how you can reduce your exposure to toxins that are not filtered at your water treatment plant. It will require a change on a global scale to stop the water pollution that's already taking a health and environmental toll. But, you can make changes at home that will help protect you and your family. In case of an emergency shutdown of your municipal water supply, be sure to store a supply of filtered water in glass or other toxin-free containers.
In a perfect world, water is clean, clear and free of chemicals, pollutants and fluoride. To achieve a clean water supply when you are on a municipal water system, your best bet is to add a filtration system. This bypasses the challenges of manufacturing an oil-based plastic product29 that often ends up polluting waterways and oceans, leaches chemicals into the water you drink and takes three times more water to produce it than to fill it.
While municipal water is regulated, some of the chemical pollutants that you may find in bottled water are not regulated, and others are added, such as chlorine and fluoride. In some instances, the chemicals that are regulated may have limits that are set too high, and in other instances water filtration systems are not set up to eliminate the pollutants. If you have well water, it is prudent to have it tested for contaminants. You can get local drinking water quality reports for public water supplies from the U.S. EPA.
Ideally, your best bet is to filter the water at both the point of entry into your home and the point of use. This means installing filters where water enters your home and again at your kitchen sink and showers. One of the best water filters I've found so far is the Pure & Clear Whole House Water Filtration System, which uses a three-stage filtration process — a micron sediment pre-filter, a KDF water filter, and a high-grade carbon water filter — to filter out chlorine, detergent byproducts and other contaminants.
Keep in mind that if your water is from a municipal source, it may also affect your indoor air quality, courtesy of evaporating chlorine from toilets, showers, baths, dishwashers and washing machines. Evaporated chlorine forms chloroform gas and chlorine vapors that may increase your risk of asthma, airway inflammation and respiratory allergies. It's important to open your windows for five to 10 minutes each day, summer and winter, to help remove the gasses and improve your indoor air quality.