We’re a nation of bottled water drinkers. Stashed in gym totes, briefcases, diaper bags, strapped to a bicycle, in your car’s drink holder, filling up your recycle bin; water bottles are as ubiquitous as smart phones. While not uncommon to see shoppers hoisting cases of bottled water from the supermarket cart to the SUV, what made “spring water” accessible and a multi-billion dollar industry may well have one critical flaw – the plastic it comes in.
Bottled Water Hazards
First of all, the illusion of “natural spring water from the purest water source straight to your grocer’s shelf” has pretty much been dispelled. Still, the convenience of purchasing a cold, clean bottle of water from virtually anywhere (including vending machines) makes bottled water an excellent go-to beverage that is refreshing and replenishes the body with hydration.
Although many of the bottled water brands are filtered tap water from an industrial plant (most of which ironically use more than 10 times the amount of water contained in the bottle to manufacture the bottle itself), we tend to believe we are making a better nutritional decision than a sugar-infused soft drink.
Good Nutrition vs. Bottled Water Contaminants
So what are we really drinking? A test done by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that twenty-two percent of bottled water brands contain some chemical contaminants. As impurities go, the list is unfortunately an impressive one and includes such elements as aluminum, acetone, chloroform, arsenic, nitrates and trihalomethanes. Not to be outdone is the potential for bacterial contamination in bottled water. Many of the brands presented with levels that were a little hard to swallow as they fell in the ranges from 5 to 51,000 colony-forming units per milliliter. That’s an enormous range of bacterial exposure.
Plastic Bottle Hazards – What’s all the Fuss about BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used over the last fifty years in the production of some plastics and resins. What happens is that BPA doesn’t necessarily stay put; it can seep from the container into its contents. Since polycarbonate plastic is generally hard, clear, lightweight plastic, it is the stuff that water bottles are made of; and therefore impacts the bottled water you are drinking.
According to Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, “Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA or into your body when you handle products made with BPA.”
BPA remains controversial, and research studies are continuing. The American Chemistry Council, an association that represents plastics manufacturers, contends that BPA poses no risk to human health. But the National Toxicology Program at the Department of Health and Human Services says it has ‘some concern’ about the possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. This level of concern is midway on its five-level scale, which ranges from serious to negligible. The Food and Drug Administration now shares this level of concern and is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply by finding alternatives to BPA in food containers.
Plastic Bottles and the Environment
Who knows the true tonnage of water bottles that wind up in mountainous landfills? Their impact on the environment is widely publicized, but what about the impact of the environment on plastic water bottles?
Bottles of water stored in a warm place like a truck or a garage can lead to a higher concentration of the Phthalates being released into the water itself. According the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website there is concern for these chemicals:
“EPA is concerned about phthalates because of their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to these chemicals.” Phthalates are used in many industrial and consumer products, many of which pose potentially high exposure. Phthalates have been detected in food and also measured in humans. Adverse effects on the development of the reproductive system in male laboratory animals are the most sensitive health outcomes from phthalate exposure. Several studies have shown associations between phthalate exposures and human health, although no causal link has been established. Recent scientific attention has focused on whether the cumulative effect of several phthalates may multiply the reproductive effects in the organism exposed.”
Your Health and Tap Water
So if bottled water is crossed off your grocery list, can you revert to a source from a simpler time when you just twisted a faucet and filled your glass? Probably not. Unfiltered tap water holds other perils like fluoride, lead and pesticides.
The search for clean, safe, drinkable water continues. The most sensible solution for clean and safe water is a whole house water filter. Water filters seamlessly integrate into a home’s existing plumbing and provide water that is virtually contaminant-free but still retains the important natural minerals.