Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bottled water: the ugly side
BY Mary Mobley

The drinking fountain. Remember that? Not too long ago, people relished it, passing by one on a scorching summer day, grateful for the cool refreshment. Not anymore. Now the drinking fountain has been replaced by its arch nemesis: bottled water.

We’ve all seen the ads: beautiful landscapes with ice-capped mountaintops against a bright blue sky, crisp clean lines with icy blue backgrounds. These labels have convinced us that what we’re drinking is only the finest water from the most pristine areas.


While some bottled water does come from natural springs and other pure sources, more than 40 percent of it comes from a community supply.  The water is treated, purified, and then sold to the consumer, who is blissfully unaware, at a price that is increased drastically.

These people are drinking puffed up tap water.

So now that the secret’s out, just how good is it?

“The Environmental Protection Agency sets standards and regulations for the presence and amount of over 100 different contaminants in public drinking water,” says Karen Osborne, the Laboratory Division Manager at the Cobb County-Marrieta Water Authority.

In the most recent tests conducted by the Cobb County Water System, every regulated contaminant was below the MCL (maximum contaminant level).

According to the CCWS, the acceptable amount of copper in tap water is 1.3 ppm. The amount detected in 2008 was 0.032 ppm. Similarly, the acceptable amount of lead in tap water is 15 ppm (parts per million). The amount detected in 2008 was only 9.7 ppm.

In 2010, the CCWS tested the amount of fluoride and nitrate/nitrite in the municipal water supply. The acceptable amount of fluoride is 4 ppm. The amount detected was 1.02 ppm. The acceptable amount of nitrate/nitrite is 10 ppm. The amount detected was 0.48 ppm.

“The CCMWA meets or exceeds the EPA regulatory requirements,” says Osborne.

Here’s a fun fact: in the United States, tap water is actually held to higher purity standards than bottled water is. Tap water is regulated under the EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act, while bottled water is regulated under less stringent standards by the U.S. FDA’s Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act.

While a majority of companies that produce bottled water use the municipal supply, some companies, such as Zephyrhills, maintain that their water only comes from “carefully selected springs.”

“We’re committed to providing products that live up to the high standards for taste, quality, nutrition and enjoyment,” says Consumer Response Representative
Beverly Watson.

Zephyrhills has several springs in which their source water comes from.

“We have a source in Pasco County, FL called Crystal Springs. There’s also one in Washington County called Cypress Springs, and another in Madison County named Blue Springs,” says Watson.

A test conducted in 2010 by Zephyrhills showed that the level of fluoride, copper, lead, and nitrate/nitrite was below the MCL (maximum contaminant level), as was the water tested by the Cobb County Water System.

The MCL for fluoride was 2 ppm, and the amount detected was 0.064-0.13 ppm. The MCL for copper was 1 ppm, and, surprisingly, there was no copper detected. The MCL for lead was 0.005 ppm, and, again, there was no lead detected. The MCL for nitrate/nitrite was 10 ppm, and the amount detected was 0.14-2.1 ppm.

So, according to these two tests, the evidence does show that the Zephyrhills spring water does indeed have less contaminants than the tap water tested in Cobb County.

Here’s another fun fact: In 2002 The FDA conducted a study concerning drinking bottled water versus tap water.

It found that people preferred drinking filtered tap water over all over beverages, including coffee, soft drinks, and, of course, bottled water.

So even though drinking Zephyrhills brand bottled water might be healthier for you to drink versus tap water, how environmentally friendly is it to consume?

What about recycling all that plastic?

Even though recycling is readily available in most major cities in the United States, only 1 in 5 bottles of water ever gets recycled, creating about 3 billion pounds of waste in plastic.

It is estimated that in 2005 alone approximately 30 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the US, with only 12 percent recycled.

“Of all the materials I see go through this recycling center, plastic is definitely on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the amount,” says Walt, one of the owners of All-Waste Sani and Recycling.

Zephyrhills assures its customers that “every bottle…is recyclable” and that their 100 percent natural spring water “has one of the lightest carbon footprints.”

They’re trying to be greener, introducing lighter-weight bottles that use up to 30 percent less plastic.

But what does that really matter if we, as the consumers, don’t do our part in recycling?

According to estimates by the Container Recycling Institute, the bottles that aren’t recycled are tossed into landfills, where it takes approximately 1,000 to decompose.

The consumers need to do their part in educating themselves on the health issues concerning drinking bottled water, and the carbon footprint they want to leave behind.

What, as a consumer of plastic products, can you do to ease your carbon footprint?  

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