Lawmakers Ask for Study on Bottled Water Impacts

Reps. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), the vice chair of the subcommittee, called for a wide-reaching Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the rapid growth of the bottled water industry and several areas affecting the quality of Americans' drinking water.

"In the past decade, sales of bottled water have reportedly tripled, but no one is examining the environmental ramifications of Americans shifting their water consumption from the traditional tap to the plastic bottle," Wynn said.  "Petroleum is used in the manufacture of bottled water containers and transporting bottled water requires the use of additional fossil fuels. We are asking GAO to look into the scope of these problems."

"As policymakers, it is our responsibility to ensure that all sources of drinking water, including bottled water, are safe for consumers to drink," Solis said. "Given the growing prevalence of bottled water, it is imperative that we have all the information regarding not only the source and labeling, but also the unintended consequences of this trend."

In their letter to GAO, the two lawmakers ask the agency to examine the effect that increased bottled water consumption is having on municipal landfill capacity, as well as the effects of energy use from the transportation and manufacture of bottled water. The lawmakers also raised questions about the purity of bottled water and whether bottled water suppliers provide the details of the water source on their labels.

Wynn and Solis also are asking GAO to examine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's failure to update its current drinking water standard for trichloroethylene (TCE).  An EPA 2001 assessment found TCE was far more likely to cause cancer than previously believed. Despite this assessment and a recommendation from the National Academy of Science, EPA has failed to update its national drinking water standard for TCE.

EPA's current drinking water standard for TCE allows a maximum of 5 parts per billion, but some have called for a revision of that standard to reduce the maximum amount of TCE allowed in water.

Finally, the letter asks GAO to evaluate EPA's process for selecting potential contaminants for regulatory action. The regulatory agency has published two new "Contaminant Candidate Lists" since 1996, but the agency has not identified a single new contaminant for subsequent regulatory action, including perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel that presents a risk to human health in pregnant women and children.

Wynn and Solis recently released a report prepared by the Food and Drug Administration that found that more than 200 commonly consumed foods and beverages are contaminated with perchlorate, bolstering the argument for a national drinking water standard for perchlorate.

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