The bottled water debate – purer than tap water?

Most of us know that a lot of the bottled water we buy is really tap water. Pepsi admitted last year that Aquafina is really tap water and Aquafina’s bottles either say ” Bottled at the source P.W.S.”  or a longer version where instead of “PWS”, they mention it as “public water sources”.  In other words, tap water.  Coke’s Dasani is PWS too, according to news reports.

Aquafina bottle with "PWS" circled

Aquafina bottle with "PWS" circled

I am sure there still are brands that source from springs or alpine mountain lakes or ice melt from glaciers.  But since I am not likely to read the fine print in each bottle, I generally assume that a lot of them are some kind of purified tap water.

“Purified” is the key word here.  Even if it was tap water, I told myself, it must be a slightly purified version.  After all, there must be some logic to why people continue to buy bottled water, and pay those outrageous prices for  purified tap water, right?  Especially in the US, where drinking water fountains are everywhere, in every public space,  in every rest area on the highway and even in unexpected remote corners of national parks.

Sure enough, Aquafina’s bottle, for one, talks about a “rigorous, seven-step purification process called HyDRO-7 ” .

Now, a seven step purification process sounds very impressive.  Three steps would be too little – what, you’d think, did they just remove the chlorine then?  Twelve steps would sound like overkill – why was the water so dirty in the first place, you’d wonder.  What exactly was that public water source?  A seven step process sounds just the right thing to do.

But all good things ultimately disappoint. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to hear from researchers that bottled water is not all that pure, and “leading brands” whoever they are, contain the same contaminants that are found in tap water.

The study’s lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said.

“In some cases, it appears bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and, at 1,900 times the cost, consumers should expect better,” said Jane Houlihan, an environmental engineer who co-authored the study.

I wonder who those leading brands are and whether they all had seven step processes.

But think about it. How fantastic is it to get free acetaminophen (aka paracetamol) with your bottled water! All you need to do if you feel feverish is to drink water. You also get free caffeine with your water! What joy.  And free bacteria to boost your immune system.. what more can one ask for? ;)

No, no, you shouldn’t think about it as paying a premium to drink fertilizer. Don’t you realize how great fertilizer is for health? Just look how well it makes plants grow.

You say you are getting it for free in tap water anyway?

You know, you may have a point there.  If I am going to get my daily dose of acetaminophen and fertilizer anyway,  I might as well trust myself to water purifiers and BPA free bottles.

At least the landfills will thank me for it.  I might not get good water, but maybe at least some good karma? :)

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25 Comments

  1. Totally agree. It’s a big scam.

    I resort to bottled water only in unfamiliar places on the theory that my body will take it better than unknown tap water with an unknown combination of fertilizers, chemicals, pollutants, etc, which my immune system hasn’t codified or cracked. :)

    Lekhni: That’s a good theory – a known fertilizer is better than an unknown mineral ;)

  2. Sheesh! Should have read this earlier…got back from the hills last week…could have got gallons of pure spring water…and that too for free :D
    Cool blog

    Lekhni: You could have sold that for a steep premium! ;) “Pure spring water – bottled from Himalayan springs”. Can you see how that goes? Now I want one of those bottles too! :P

  3. Ozarka is a brand of spring water and I feel that is a good bottled water. Rest of them are just Tap water Jokes. I am comfortable drinking water from the kitchen tap. I just run it into a Brita filter and drink it. Other times, the public water fountain is just fine. Even my doctor has said it is ok to drink from the tap, the city water here is very good. Over here in Kansas, they also seem to have minute traces of certain anti depressant. That’s why I am cheerful all the time … see …. eeeeeeee :)

    Lekhni: Brita is good, and so are refrigerator dispensers (which also have a filter). Antidepressants? That’s a good one :) I wonder what’s in our tap water? ;)

  4. Of course the karma factor is the most important one, I’d presume :D But yay @ doing away with the plastic bottles. Stainless steel water bottles are quite pretty – especially when they make them in pink :)

    Lekhni: Pink stainless steel bottles? No, no, that’s too dull :P Me, I will stick with bright lime green ;)

  5. I’ve been doing fine so far on good ol’ tap water, although I do suffer from the occasional headache which my neighbors, who swear by bottled water, never seem to do. Now I know why!

    Lekhni: Your headaches are just caffeine withdrawal symptoms from not drinking enough water ;)

  6. You had me at free coffee ;)

    And now I know why I haven’t got my mutant powers yet. I don’t drink much bottled water, and haven’t found a radioactive spider yet. But now, I need good costume ideas.

    Lekhni: Costume ideas for Halloween? Don’t remind me, I am quaking in my boots at the expected kiddie onslaught :P

  7. Egads, Lekhni! You left out the fluoride that they add to all water, bottled or on tap. I tried to get my dentist to explain why water would need to be fluoridated when all the toothpastes already have it, making it an extra dose of something that can be poisonous in large quantities – no satisfactory response for that. It’s supposed to help with the remineralization of teeth and make them stronger, preventing cavities, but no one will explain why we need fluoride in both water and toothpaste.

    Lekhni: The irony is that research has not shown that swallowing fluorided tap water has any impact on tooth decay levels.

  8. Some bottled water doesnt have enough minerals which the human body need as supplement. tap water does have that, however its removed along with the unwanted substances from the water before packaging.

    Lekhni: That doesn’t seem to be true of North America and Europe, if you read this study. But the study does find that levels of minerals vary in both bottled and tap water.

  9. Not to come across as supporting the whole bottled water industry (I am sure everyone knows Evian is Naive spelled backwards!), but having spent time sourcing Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) equipment for a project, I can tell you that Aquafina (at least in its facilities in the South East) uses R.O. technology, which is excellent in filtering salts, metals and other dissolved compounds (we’re talking Parts Per Million or PPM levels.) So, technically the water they put in the bottle is cleaner than the tap water they feed into the R.O. unit. Now, how clean is the plastic bottle vs your water glass at home – that’s a bit over my head. I’d say, go for Brita.

    As purified tap water, it must be a little better than “raw” tap water, I suppose..

  10. @ Lekhni, @ IdlingInTopGear

    Brita uses ion exchange which exchanges Ca2+ ions with Na+ ions. It may give the washing machines etc longer life by reducing scaling, but not so clear-cut for human lives, risk to which increases with increased sodium intake. Hobson’s choice!

    In the UK, tap water is generally the most QC-ed thing to drink but the taste in London is like that of water from a well in Mathura (very hard water) whereas in Edinburgh, a novice may be put off by the peat-filtering that happens naturally in water (the same water that makes Scotch great) and that gives it a dull yellow colour. Water everywhere has peculiarities; we all choose our poison and go. In other words, we are all Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner in one way or another.

  11. Interesting article… However, we should be happy in this country that 1L or regular bottled water costs only Rs. 12-13/-. Does not matter whether it is from tap – as long as it is purified and with added minerals, it is fine!

    If you have no clue how far the cost can get for imported and bottled at source water – A small bottle of Evian imported water, packaged at source in Alps, cost you 80-100 rupees in most restaurants. And Geoffrey’s in Bangalore, 200ml of Evian costs Rs. 350/-. Can you believe it??? Shouldn’t there be some curb on how much they can charge for food items????

    Cheers,
    Ajith – Da First Timer Here

    Well, if people are willing to pay Rs 350 for a bottle of water..the best form of protest is really not regulation, it’s to stop patronizing a place that overcharges..

  12. Good point about going Brita or Pur or straight tap if either is your pleasure. There still will be people who buy water bottles though, and there’s room to make them greener and biodegradable at least. There are biodegradable corn plastics on the market for example. I use a Pur filter at home but have not been able to get the rest of my family to leave their Aquafina non-biodegradable bottles at the store.

    If you are interested, there’s an effort to pressure PepsiCo to switch to biodegradable bottles for Aquafina water. Check it out at http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/put-aquafina-in-biodegradable-bottles-or-else

    I just joined as I feel we need to just get one of the bottled water makers to make the switch and that will hopefully encourage other water companies to follow their lead.

    Biodegradable bottles are certainly a great idea!

  13. Yup, I agree with you. People here drink only bottled water, for God knows what reason. When we invite people, we buy water for them.
    I think carbonated drinks, mineral water and fashion (especially the outre things that are made in the name of art and creativity) are three scams that show that good marketing can convince people to need or use something for daily consumption when they do not need it at all and create a market for something so useless and pointless.
    It is interesting to follow how mineral water was originally marketed as safe water for tourists (which is sensible) and now I see the ads here saying it is good for health as it has these “minerals”. As if public supply clean water is distilled and devoid of minerals. And carbonated drinks were originally marketed as good for digestion (like ENO) and slowly the marketing strategy changed to – it is COOL to have coke.

    I agree – these are marketing success stories. Why else would someone drink brown, sugared, caffeinated soda aka Coke/Pepsi? It actually looks like ditch water..

  14. @ Nomad: I think that may be Parisian pretence in general ;-) Some will tell you how San Pellegrino is better/ worse than Perrier and so on. In blind tests they can’t tell one from the other. It is just unadulterated bovine excreta about nothing. In London, the best restaurants offer tap water as well as bottled and a few restaurant critics now ‘dock’ marks in reviews if tap water is not offered.

    The worrisome thing is the sugared waters which are increasingly being sold. They cater to the infantilised palate that can only do sweet taste or nothing. Tragic really to see grown-ups lapping these arbitrary premises up. But then if rationality and need were really the bases of life, many things may not exist as you point out.

    • From your email id, I gather you are a school kid. Well, if two people write an article on the same topic, it’s not plagiarism. Btw, you should always use spell check, especially if you are going to write in capitals :) (I’m really hoping you are a student and not a teacher!)

  15. The Fluoride molecule is smaller than H2O, and DOES NOT LEAVE the water once it is administered. That is why home filtration is ineffective against it, as well as Bottled water that comes from a Municipal source. And worse, many bottled water companies ADD Fluoride to the water, and claim that Reverse Osmosis filtration removes it. IT DOES NOT. That is why the E.P.A. [Environmental Protection Agency] forbids dumping the Toxic Waste into the Environment; it does not get out of the water once it is contaminated. That accounts for the 4 ppb of Fluoride in the ground-water [contaminant] that the Bottle Water companies says is “Naturally occurring,” because it shows up in even the ground water. When the EPA issues a warning about the fish in the river having a high Mercury content, and warns that you should not consume more than 1 per week, that is saying something about the water that the fish lives in: the fish is but a sponge for the water. Want to see how much Mercury is in the water: test the fish.

    This is why the EPA allows the Fertilizer and Aluminum industries to dump their poisonous toxic waste into our drinking supplies: our GOD given organs make excellent washing machines, our bones make excellent storage tanks, and it doesn’t return back to the environment. Think of the billions of human washing machines and storage tanks. It stores itself in our bones.

    Now consider this: when more and more people quit drinking their city water: the waste water returns back to the water treatment facility and so does the Fluoride. This means they get backed up 55 gallon drums of unprocessed, toxic wasted. They cannot measure a higher concentration than 4,000 ppb. This means they cannot add in more than 266 times the amount of Lead [yet is MORE toxic than lead] and they cannot add in more than 400 times the amount of Arsenic [although it is Almost as toxic as Arsenic] So when they start losing their human washing machines, and billions of gallons no longer consumed, and the Fluoride RETURNED BACK TO THEM, they realized that they had a problem with the DISPOSAL SYSTEM. They then turned and approached all of the water bottle companies. Most of these companies already use a Municipal Fluoridated water source for its products. On top of the Fluoride and disinfectant already in the city water, they run it through a Reverse Osmosis Filter, and often times add more Fluoride and disinfectant to the bottled water. In the early 1900’s, Dr. Hodge, who worked on a solution for getting rid of the hazardous waste, theorized that it might be good for teeth as protection against cavities [it is not], and proclaimed to the American public that a dose not higher than 1 ppb might be safe to ingest [and it is not safe to ingest], it gained Access into almost every drinking water source in the Country. Today, a toxic amount of 4,000 ppb is being dumped into 66% of our nation’ drinking water, there are slowly more and more people calling their Mayer and local government officials informing them of the Truth about Fluoride. Mayors and townspeople who once also believed Fluoride was harmless and good for their teeth, are now astounded that they have been giving poisoned water to the wives and children at their dinner tables, while those who sell it to them drink pure, filtered, UN-FLUORIDATED Natural Spring water back home. They know more than most people what it does, and yet when a township rejects or cancels their orders, the P.R. for the Fluoride companies act stunned before the newspaper reporters and say ‘We’re shocked…we don’t know why they don’t want it…’
    They know. Most of Europe has STOPPED pouring Fluoride into their drink water.

    The Government makes billions of dollars along with the Fertilizer and Aluminum companies selling this to Municipalities across the Nation [their plan has been to give it to humans to keep the Environment clean]
    Now they don’t have to pay Billions of dollars to properly dispose of it, and Lobbyists generously contribute to Campaign Funds [an "acceptable bribe"].

    check out http://tuberose.com/Fluoride.html

    Just Google: Fluoride + Poison

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