An Example of Sin
WARNING: This is one of those kinda angry and ranting posts. I was asked to write this by someone who felt it’s been too long since I got cranky on my page…
It’s an atrocity. The system is so badly broken that it results in something worse then having no system in place. It amazes me how easy it is to confuse and mislead people. Then there is the straight forward peccable nature of business. It’s all about that profit and fuck the people that might get hurt or even die. How is it that this state of affairs continues to exist? And what exactly am I getting on about?
First, I’m going to put it out there that the reason that this issue makes me so angry is that it is an example of how business is run. It’s not an exception. This is just the standard of practice these days. Fuck You 101; how to get paid while disregarding the value of human life. In case you haven’t already gathered it: I am against bottled water. I think it is disgusting the manner in which they handle this business and the way that they put them selves out there.
So, let’s get into it!
Bottled water presents problems from numerous angles. It is poorly regulated and thus presents a health risk to those who drink it. It puts people living at the source at risk of water shortages. It adds a large amount of plastic into the system. It costs a ludicrous amount more for a product that is of a ridiculously lower quality.
So, why the fuck are people buying (and drinking) these little shit bottles? Because a large chunk of the money people are spending on that water goes towards convincing people that they should buy it. And big business is better at marketing their products then they are at making them. Public relations and marketing have been researched and refined into a science. We know more about the psychology of effective marketing then we do of psychological disorders. More money is spent researching how to advertise products then is spent researching all types of mental illness combined. It is disgusting, but the truth is that people buy the bottled water because they have bought us at a subtle level that is difficult to define or understand without the foundation of science it rests upon.
Let’s start at the beginning. Water was bottled as far back as 1622. This is when water was first bottled and it was at the Holy Well in England. This was marketed as a healing tonic from a religious angle. Which means that bottled water was a farce from the beginning. In 1767 Jackson’s Spa was the first to bottle water in the USA and this was out of Boston. It was also marketed as a healing tonic. In the 19th century it was believed that bottled water was safer due to the lack of adequate public water systems. But in the 20th century public water systems became much better and began to chlorinate. With this there was a significant decrease in bottled water sales. But then in 1977 Perrier put out a massive ad campaign to renew bottled water sales. And it was very successful leading to a large increase in the sales of bottled water in the USA; making water the 2nd most popular commercial beverage in the USA based on sales.
50% of Americans drink bottled water, thinking that it is safer to drink than tap water. But 40% of the water sold in the USA is tap water. Look at the labels of your bottled water and almost half of them have “municipal water” marked on their label. This means that it is tap water. Yup, that water that is suppose to be safer then tap water often is tap water.
And the real tragedy is that your taxes are paying for town water whether you are using it or not. That town water will cost you an average of 0.3 cents per a gal. While that same tap water will cost you an average of $1.21 per a gal once it has been bottled. For the same water! And because you are paying your taxes, you are paying for that water twice. That means that if you drink only bottled water, you will spend an average of $200 per a year per a person to meet the recommended 8 glasses per day. The same amount will cost you an average of 33 cents per a year if you rely solely on tap water.
Why is bottled water so much more expensive? You’re paying for the pumping, transporting, retailing, labeling, advertising and the packaging of that water. Then there is the company profits. Tap water is not distributed for profit.
Bottled water sales largely increased based on marketing that bottled water is safer then tap water. Bottled water is NOT safer that tap water. The 40% that is tap water looses quality and safety because of the packaging. The bottles themselves contain chemicals that have estrogenic activity in the body. These chemicals leech into the water from the bottle, especially so if the bottles become warm. These chemicals are called phthalates. There are no legal limits of these chemicals in bottled water. Companies are not required to test for these chemicals to meet safety production standards. These chemicals are not present in tap water because tap water is not stored in plastic. Why are these chemicals of concern? They have been found to be present in breast milk. They are linked with numerous reproductive illnesses. In addition to the phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) in another dangerous chemical that is transmitted from plastic into water. A 10 year study of BPA found it to be linked to reproductive damage, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, liver failure and childhood ADHD. BPA has been found to be present in breast milk and in the uterus of pregnant women. The effects on the fetus and infants are unknown.
So, how is water regulated? Bottled water is regulated by the FDA while tap water is regulated by the EPA. This means that the safety standards and monitoring for quality are completely different for the 2 products. Bottled water rarely meets the high water quality standards set by the EPA. This is largely due to the lower standards for bottled water, the poor monitoring of bottled water and the fact that companies are allowed to test the water themselves. The quality of bottled water is consistently so poor that the CDC has offered cautions on drinking bottled water.
Tap water is required to put out public annual quality reports that you have access to through your town hall. The FDA states on its web site that “the best way to learn more [about bottled water quality] is to read the label or contact the company.” Well, there is currently no standard for labeling bottled water which means it is not a reliable source for information. And bottled water companies are not required to make their water testing available for public review. The Right to Know provisions that govern tap water do not apply to bottled water. Keep in mind that neither the FDA or EPA certify the safety of bottled water.
“FDA’s rules also exempt many forms of what most of us would consider “bottled water” from all of its specific water-testing and contamination standards. If the product is declared on the ingredient label simply as “water,” “carbonated water,” “disinfected water,” “filtered water,” “seltzer water,” “sparkling water,” or “soda water,” it is not considered “bottled water” by FDA, nor…do most states regulate this water as bottled water. For these products, the specific FDA contamination standards and water quality testing requirements for bottled water are not applicable. No contamination monitoring is required, and only a vague narrative legal standard applies, stating that the water cannot be “adulterated” — a term not specifically defined and, to date, apparently never enforced against any of these products by FDA. Therefore, the generalized FDA “good manufacturing practice” requirements applicable to these waters set no specific contamination standards. The same is true with most state regulations.” per NRDC.
How does independent testing reflect that bottled water is? First, it is important to note that there has not been much independent testing done. Bottled water is tested by International Bottled Water Association, NSF International and Underwriters Laboratories. These companies are hired and paid by the bottled water companies. This means that they have a vested interest to provide favorable results to the bottled water companies. This is not unbiased water testing. Additionally, they are not required to submit the testing results to the FDA or to the public. This amounts to allowing bottled water companies to self regulate the water quality and safety.
The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is one of the few organizations that have been testing bottled water independently from the bottled water companies. This testing is done by purchasing bottled water and sending it to labs without indicating which samples are from which companies and which are from the controlled group taken from tap water supply. While this body of data is inadequate, it is alarming and indicates that further and more extensive testing should be completed. NRDC made the following statement in regards to their bottled water testing: “While our testing is the most comprehensive publicly available independent testing of US bottled water, it must be viewed as incomplete.” They went on to state: “No comprehensive data are available for bottled water.”
The NRDC data reflects some scary information. Most bottled water exceeds EPA limits for mercury, thallium and thorium. These are substances that are known to be toxic and can cause death. 22% of brands had chemical contaminates above the state health limits for tap water. 33% contained synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria and had arsenic above the standards set for tap water. Heterotrophic-plate-count (HPC) bacteria is not regulated for bottled water. Bottled water is never tested for visruses, giardia and cryptosporidium. The FDA had no regulations for acrylamide, asbestos or epichlorohydrin but the EPA regulates all of these for tap water.
NRDC recommends “buy brands with a known protected source and ones that makes readily available testing and treatment information that shows high water quality.” But this is easier said then done. Bottled water companies produce their own data and can post on their web sites any data they want without an unbiased review. This means that they can omit data that would have a negative impact on sales. It also means that they could easily post false data without anything to alert consumers to the fact that the data is inaccurate.
The EPA put out a consumer alert to provide information regarding the labeling of bottled water. “Glacier water” and “Mountain Water” are not regulated standards and thus cannot be restricted. Since they are undefined, a company is pretty free ti label their water in this manner; even when it is tap water. “Purified” is a term that refers to any process that is used to remove chemicals and pathogens. However, this does not indicate that the water is free of chemicals or pathogens. It only indicates that some of those have been removed, but there is not a set standard for the amount to be removed to be able to label the water in this manner. By regulatory standards, the only water that is considered free of all microbes and pathogens is sterile water. However, this water is rarely tested to see if it meets this standard.
NRDC declared: “bottled water regulations are inadequate to assure consumers of either purity or safety.” Why did they come to this conclusion? Waters covered by the FDA are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards then those set by the EPA for tap water. FDA water regulatory programs are severely under funded. Bottled water companies are allowed to engage in substantially misleading marketing. The FDA estimates that 1/2 of a full time FDA staff person is dedicated to bottled water regulation. That means that only 20 hours a week are spent in the regulation of all of USA bottled water. And fewer staff hours are spent on assuring compliance with FDA water rules. Even if these staff persons are fully dedicated and invested, how can they possibly keep up? This indicates that the FDA has made bottled water a very low priority.
The manner in which tap and bottled water is tested for bacterial contamination greatly differs. Tap water is required to be tested at least 100 times a month. That’a at least 3 times a day. Bottled water is tested 4 times a month, which is only 1 time a week. Chemical contamination testing also greatly differs. Tap water tests every 3 months while bottled water tests once a year.
If testing reflects an unsafe product the standards are vastly different. Bottled water is required to have a distribution recall. This means that they are not required to alert the public to the recall or the reason for the recall. They simply have to remove the product from the sales line. And again they are doing their own testing. Additionally, this water can be sold in the contaminated state if it is labeled as such. Tap water is required to issue an immediate public report with guidance to consumers on how to handle the contamination. They are also required to have a corrective action plan in place within 24 hours of the discovery of the contamination.
Lastly, FDA inspections are every 4-5 years, but bottled water companies are only required to keep 2 years worth of testing data.
|Water Type||Dis-infection Required?||Confirmed E. Coli & Fecal Coliform Banned?||Testing Frequency for Bacteria||Must Filter to Remove Pathogens, or Have Strictly Protected Source?||Must Test for Crypto-sporidium, Giardia, Viruses?||Testing Frequency for Most Synthetic Organic Chemicals|
|Carbonated or Seltzer Water||No||No||None||No||No||None|
|Big City Tap Water (using surface water)||Yes||Yes||Hundreds/ month||Yes||Yes||1/quarter
(limited waivers available if clean source)
|See Table 1 of NRDC’s bottled water report for further comparisons and explanations.|
The categories of bottled water often allows companies to avoid regulations altogether. Carbonated water falls under soda regulations and thus is less regulated then other types of bottled water. The FDA rules completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold in the same state. This is 60-70% of all water sold in the USA. Additionally, 20% of states don’t regulate bottled water at all.
But the problems with bottled water are not limited to the quality of the water being sold. There is also the issue of the bottles themselves. 30 million single serve bottles are thrown away every day. And plastic lasts… who knows how long? Only 13% of plastic bottles are recycled. The recycling of these bottles is expensive and adds to pollution through the trucking and processing of the plastics. The scope of this blog post doesn’t allow for a full discussion of the problems associated with the recycling process. Perhaps that’s a topic for another day.
Creating and processing plastic comes at a high price for those who live near and work in those buildings. People living near and working in these plants are more sick then those who live else where. The property value is so low that families who purchased the house prior to the plant being built become locked into living there for finical reasons. This also means that the next generation is often stuck there when they inherit the property. Again, I cannot give this topic a proper and complete examination in this blog. Perhaps another day?
There is the final issue of water distribution. The amount of clean, drinkable water available in the world is inadequate. Water is essential to human survival and should be a guaranteed right of all humans. This is not something that should be sold for profit because it creates a greater problem of water access. First, this is because a large amount of water is wasted during the bottling process. Secondly, public water sources are being used by companies to supply their bottled water. This puts local people in jeopardy. in 2007 there were droughts in Georgia and North Carolina. During these droughts, citizens were put on strict water rationing with stiff penalties for exceeding those rations. But Coke and Pepsi continued to pump and ship water out of those regions during this crisis.
In conclusion, we have allowed Satan to gain control of our water supply. For your health, for your wallet and for the security of our water supply; avoid bottled water. Do you really want to turn control of our public trust over to private companies whose sole motive is profit?
Please, help stop this sin. Don’t buy bottled water!
Some references and resources:
Even Penn&Teller’s show Bullshit! has an episode on bottled water.