A new study by the Environmental Working Group shows that some brands of bottled water (notably Walmart’s Sam’s Choice and Giant Supermarket's Acadia brands) have the same types and levels of chemical contaminants often found in tap water. The study generated quite a bit of media coverage (ABC News, New York Times), with the general theme that bottled water isn’t perfect and isn’t cheap compared to tap water – something to consider for the family budget during tight economic times. Of course, none of this is news, as it’s well known that some brands of bottled water come from municipal supplies and consumers are really just paying for packaging and convenience. (And no offense to the Environmental Working Group, but the Natural Resources Defense Council did a similar study about a decade ago and reached the same conclusions.)
The important message behind the study has little to do with bottled water. The real story is that some of our rivers, lakes, and groundwater are still severely polluted with chemicals that can kill us, despite decades of knowing about the problem and debating laws and policies to fix it. We drink this pollution whether we spend a buck on bottled water or just use the tap. This isn’t a problem that can be avoided by changing what we drink. It’s a problem that must be solved by taking care of our water at the source.
Water bottlers aren’t putting caffeine, Tylenol, fertilizer residue, and the cancer-causing chemical bromodichloromethane (all of which were found in the study) into the water - we are. (Ever flush old medicine down the drain and wonder where it goes?) Water bottlers are simply selling us the water that we have polluted and aren’t cleaning-up. Americans now spend over $10 billion a year on bottled water, which shows that we value clean, safe, drinkable water. If we spent that money preventing and cleaning-up water pollution, we would be much better off. The Environmental Working Group recognized this in its study and hit the nail on the head with the following recommendation:
"The only effective long-term solution to ensure the safety of drinking water supplies across the country is protection and cleanup of our rivers, streams, and ground water from pollution."