Studies show that bottled water no better than tap

Waterworks director Brou says, in some cases, bottled water couldn’t meet state regulations

October 24, 2007 at 2:02 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

When it comes to drinking water, many health-conscious citizens opt for the bottled variety because they believe that it is safer than the water that makes its way into their home through underground pipes.

While that might certainly be the case in some instances, there is actually little difference between bottled water and tap water, except of course for the large amount of money it costs to purchase bottled water.

"We are under a lot more regulations than bottled water has ever been under," Waterworks Department head Robert Brou said. "We meet or exceed any regulation that they have and bottled water, in some cases, couldn't meet the same regs. They are certainly not regulated to the same degree we are."

Every year the department must submit water samples to the state, which then releases the results so that the department can inform the citizens of exactly what constituents are in their water. For the past 12 years, the parish waterworks has been in complete compliance with all of the regulations and they have been way below the allowed levels in all substances including nitrate, lead, copper, barium, and turbidity.

For example, in the most recent reporting period, the government allows the parish to have a Nitrate level of 10 in the water and the parish actually only had .61 of the substance. That .61 is recorded in parts per million, which would correspond to a single penny in $10,000.

"I know of none of our neighboring communities that can say this, not one," Brou said of his department's ability to meet the stringent requirements year after year. "This accomplishment was not an easy thing to do, but has been a direct result of all of the hard work and dedication of each and every one of our department personnel."

The findings are even more remarkable because the water samples are taken at a worse-case scenario.

"The water we send is taken from the worst plumbing, the oldest systems, and inside houses where it has been sitting all night," Brou said. "That should be the worse that you'll ever possibly get in the entire system based on the houses that were chosen.

"It's still perfectly safe."

Chlorine, which is an acquired taste, can also be removed from the tap water by just leaving it out for an hour.
While the parish waterworks department is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Hospitals, bottled water companies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Just recently, the FDA required those companies to release the actual sources of the water that they were bottling. In many cases, that bottled water was from a municipal source.

However, the FDA does require bottled water to be held to certain standards, and companies must test for pesticides, minerals, and physical properties such as color. By law, the FDA standard of quality must be at least as stringent and protective of public health as EPA's standards for public water supplies.

Because the FDA rarely holds bottled water to tougher standards than tap water, there is usually not much of a difference. In fact, a 2001 study by the conservation group World Wildlife Fund confirmed that.

"Bottled water may be no safer, or healthier, than tap water in many countries while selling for up to 1,000 times the price," the World Wildlife Fund said in its report.

Today, that water could actually sell for up to 10,000 times more.

The study, conducted by University of Geneva researcher Catherine Ferrier went on to say that the only difference between some bottled water and tap water is that it is distributed in bottles rather than pipes.

"The only advantage they have is hopefully they are putting it in a clean container and bringing it to your house," Brou said. "I'm putting it in a pipe and we have a little over 350 miles of pipe in our system. That, we can control with the chlorine residual and all those things.

"What I don't have control over is what your plumbing is at your house," he continued. "Most people who have water quality complaints, we can trace it back to their own plumbing."

And it would likely be cheaper for someone to get up-to-date plumbing than to keep buying bottled water, year after year.

"People fuss about the water bills, but the average customer pays .60 cents a day, which is everything you need to bathe, wash your house, wash your clothes, flush your toilet, and water your yard," treatment foreman Dondi Troxler said. "Plus, you don't have to leave your house to get it."

And the high cost of bottled water doesn't even include the dangers it poses to the environment.

The Earth Policy Institute says that in contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Even after the water has been consumed, there is still the plastic bottle to dispose of. According to the container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter.

Incinerating those used bottles produces toxic by products such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can also take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.
The International Bottled Water Association responds to those claims by saying that all bottled water packaging is recyclable. It says that in the home and office, bottles are captured at an exceptional rate, where they are collected, cleaned, sanitized, and reused up to 100 times.

Still, Brou finds it hard to believe that anyone could consistently opt for bottled water when safe water is abundant for cheap right here in the parish.

"I understand there's a convenience to it, and that's one thing, but it's ridiculous to buy it at your house or business when the water is available and it is perfectly safe," he said. "There is not an issue."

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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