Is bottled water safe to drink?
Recently, a good friend and fellow medical school classmate, Dr. Kaaren Douglas, M.D. (www.thefollowupdoctor.com) send me a link to a recent bottled water recall. We’re told that tap water isn’t safe, so drink bottled water. But recently, Niagara Bottling issued a voluntary recall of its bottled water products after learning some of its spring sources were contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Fourteen brands of bottled water have been recalled due to a potential E. coli contamination including food store brands ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Giant, Acme, 7-Eleven and Wegman’s. The voluntary recall was for water bottled in its Pennsylvania facilities in Allentown and Hamburg marked with a code that begins with A or F respectively.
The presence of E.coli means the water was contaminated with human or animal waste and can cause some serious health risks which includes diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms including death if consumed and you become ill. There have been no reports of illness. The company is urging customers to avoid drinking the water without boiling it first, or to use other sources for water.
With this recent recall and other food recalls recently (ice cream due to bacterial contamination which led to a number of illnesses and death), I decided to look into how common are these bottled water recalls.
History of bottled water recalls
From 1990 to 2008 (the most recent year), there were over 140 bottled water recalls in the United States alone. These ranged from bacteria to kerosine to benzene (causes leukemia) to mold, yeast and algae. Some were recalled due to taste or smell while others had excessive chlorine or particulate matter making the bottled water unfit for human consumption. In addition, at least four recalls were issued on internationally produced bottled waters.
What’s in your bottled water besides water?
The bottled water companies would love you to believe that it’s just pure, clean water. At least that’s what their ads claim. But what does the lab say when these bottled waters are tested? When we pay up to 1,900 times more to buy bottled water than it costs to use tap water, wouldn’t you like to know what you’re drinking and where it comes from? I would, but apparently, some of these companies don’t agree. According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard, most bottled makers don’t agree. The answers to three simple questions, (1) where does it come from? (2) Is it purified? And how? and (3) have tests found any contaminants? are kept secret for some or all of these questions. Among the 10 best selling brands, Aquafina (Pepsi), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Crystal Geyser and six of the seven brands of Nestle waters don’t answer at least one of the questions.
Just how much bottled water do we drink?
According to the EWG, in 2011 (latest figures available):
- Every 27 hours, Americans consume enough bottled water to circle the equator when stacked end to end.
- US consumption of bottled water grew by 24%.
- The FDA (regulates bottled water) does not mandate that bottled water be any safer than tap water (regulated by the EPA). In reality, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
- Almost half of all bottled waters come from municipal tap water.
- It’s estimated that it takes 2000 times more energy to produce bottled water than an equivalent amount of tap water. In fact, it requires more than 30 million barrels of oil each year for production and transportation.
- Each year 4 billion pounds of PET plastic bottles end up either in landfills or as roadside waste.
Tips for safe drinking water
Water is an absolute necessity of life as we cannot go 3 days without it. It makes up 70% of our body weight. Drink plenty of it, but avoid bottled water when you can. Learn about your tap water. Tap water suppliers publish all of their water quality tests, while bottled water companies don’t. You can find more information on your city’s water by going to EWG’s National Tap Water Atlas. If you have a private water supply (well water, etc.), have it tested. Better yet, use filtered tap water to drink or cook. Choose a good filter to remove contaminants, as filters vary on their effectiveness. When outside the home, drink water from an approved, BPA-free bottle with an effective filter. I use the Puritii Water bottle and filter because it removes up to 99.999994% of all contaminants, including viruses, bacteria, parasites and protozoa regardless of the water supply.
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