Group Finds Pollutants in Bottled Water; Association Says Claims Exaggerated
Ten popular U.S. bottled water brands contain mixtures of 38 different pollutants, including bacteria, fertilizer, Tylenol, and industrial chemicals, some at levels no better than tap water, according to laboratory tests recently conducted by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Walmart's Sam's Choice at several locations contained contaminants exceeding California's bottled water quality standards and safety levels for carcinogens under the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Giant Food's Acadia brand consistently retained the high levels of cancer-causing chlorination byproducts found in the suburban Washington, D.C. tap water from which it is made.
Overall, the test results strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted.
"It's buyer beware with bottle water," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at EWG. "The bottled water industry promotes its products as pure and healthy, but our tests show that pollutants in some popular brands match the levels found in some of the nation's most polluted big city tap water systems. Consumers can't trust that what's in the bottle is anything more than processed, pricey tap water."
Laboratory tests conducted for EWG at one of the country's leading water quality laboratories found 38 contaminants in 10 brands of bottled water purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in nine states and the District of Columbia. The pollutants identified include common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals, an array of cancer-causing byproducts from municipal tap water chlorination, heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes, fertilizer residue, and a broad range of industrial chemicals. Four brands were also contaminated with bacteria.
Unlike tap water, where consumers are provided with test results every year, the bottled water industry does not disclose the results of any contaminant testing that it conducts.
Americans paid $12 billion to drink 9 billion gallons of bottled water last year alone. Yet, as EWG tests show, several bottled waters bore the chemical signature of standard municipal water treatment -- a cocktail of fluoride, chlorine, and other disinfectants whose proportions vary only slightly from plant to plant. In other words, some bottled water was chemically almost indistinguishable from tap water. The only striking difference: the price tag. The typical cost of a gallon of bottled water is $3.79 – 1,900 times the cost of a gallon of public tap water.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.
In response, the International Bottled Water Association said the report contains false claims and exaggerations about bottled water products.
"The testing results show that only two bottled water brands didn't meet a California state standard for one regulated substance," said IBWA President Joe Doss. There are many hundreds of brands sold in the United States that are not involved in this study.
"While bottled water products should always comply with all established regulatory standards, the California requirement for this substance is eight times lower than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standard of quality for bottled water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level for tap water," Doss said.
Doss noted that the testing was not a representative sample of bottled water products and that the report "mischaracterizes substances found in the tested bottled water products and discusses them out of context with accepted scientific determinations."
He also added that the EWG repeatedly fails to draw any correlation between levels of substances found in the bottled water brands tested and the actual levels at which health effects would be evident.
"IBWA supports a consumer's right to clear, accurate, and comprehensive information about the bottled water products they purchase," Doss said. "All packaged foods and beverages, including bottled water, are subject to extensive FDA labeling requirements that provide consumers with a great deal of product quality information. In addition, virtually all bottled water products include a phone number on the label that consumers can use to contact the company."