Yes, our tap water can be unsafe. Yes, there are multiple industrial and agricultural based chemicals found in our tap water. Our municipal water supplies are tested daily and regulated by federal law, yet the standards they have developed are not actually safe levels for human consumption. These levels are typically determined through political compromise and not actual scientific study.
Yet bottled water is worse!
Why? Because it takes all of the chemicals in tap water and adds chemicals from the plastic bottle it’s stored in, for who knows how long.
We know which is better for the environment. That’s easy. Not only are millions of tons of plastic bottles clogging our landfills, but it takes 1.63 liters of water to make every liter of Dasani—and the company is doing it in drought-plagued California.
Even though both the federal government and most states have bottled-water safety programs, regulations don’t adequately assure consumers of either purity or safety. A few state bottled-water programs (for example, those in Massachusetts and New York) maintain lists of the sources, but not all do.
It’s regulated by different agencies, with different missions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversees the quality of water that comes out of your tap, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring the safety and truthful labeling of bottled water sold nationally. States are responsible for regulating water that is both packaged and sold within its borders (which is most of the bottled-water market), but one in five states doesn’t even bother.
It’s important to note that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. In fact, just the opposite is true in many cases. Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be.
Carefully check the label and even the cap; if it says “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” this means it’s derived from tap. If you don’t find any information on the bottle, you can call the bottler or the bottled-water program in your state or the state where it was packaged and ask about the source.
Recent research suggests there might be cause for concern. Chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles containing phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water; the bottled-water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.
In a recent study by German researchers, nearly 25,000 chemicals were found lurking in a single bottle of water. Many of these chemicals mimic the effects of potent pharmaceuticals inside your body, according to the study published in the journal PLoS One.
Using other forms of detection to isolate the various chemicals, the researchers found more than 24,500 different chemicals in the bottled waters – including two classes of chemicals, maleates and fumarates, which are known potent endocrine disruptors (hormonally active chemicals). Maleates and fumarates are utilized to manufacture plastic resins, which are used to make water bottles, and they may also appear as contaminants of other plastic chemicals.
In widespread testing, a whopping 93 percent of bottled water samples tested were contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic. The study found an average of 10 total plastic particles and plastic fibers per liter; that’s twice the plastic level found in tap water. And get this: Some of the most popular brands were contaminated — this is widespread. A small amount of the plastic fragments tested positive for industrial lubricants, but researchers say there’s evidence that at least some of the tiny plastic pieces found in the water come from the packaging itself … perhaps the caps because polypropylene plastic bits turned up in more than half the bottled water samples tested.
As a healthy adult, the occasional sip from the “toxic fountain” of bottled water won’t kill you. However, small children, women of child-bearing age, and pregnant women are at greater risk of poor outcomes when exposed to these chemicals. Effects can include stunted growth, early puberty, premature birth, infertility and early menopause – just to name a few. The remaining population should still exercise caution, as more and more research is discovering that these chemicals can also trigger diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
What are FDA standards? (www.banthebottle.net)
Under the standard of quality (21 CFR, 165.110[b]), FDA allows certain levels of contaminants in bottled water.
Contaminants bottled water may have in it.
Coliform. Coliform are rod-shaped bacteria, such as E. coli, that are normally present in the human intestine. The FDA says that bottled water may have up to 9.2 coliform organisms per 100 milliliters. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Arsenic. Arsenic is a poison. The FDA says that bottled water may have up to 0.05 milligrams per liter of arsenic. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Chloride. Chloride is a compound of chlorine, a substance used to disinfect tap water. The FDA allows up to 250.0 milligrams per liter of chloride in bottled water. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Iron. Iron is a metallic element. Your body needs some iron, but not too much. The FDA permits bottled water to contain up to 0.3 milligrams per liter of iron. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Manganese. Manganese resembles iron and is used in fertilizers. Bottled water may contain up to 0.05 milligrams per liter of manganese. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Phenols. Phenols are corrosive, poisonous acidic compounds. Your bottled water may contain up to 0.001 milligrams per liter of phenols. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Dissolved solids. “Dissolved solids” is a catch-all phrase. The FDA allows bottled water to contain up to 500 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, of whatever type. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Zinc. Zinc is a metallic element. Your body needs some zinc, but not too much. The FDA permits bottled water to contain up to 5.0 milligrams per liter of zinc. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Fluoride. Fluoride is purposely added to some bottled water. If so, the label should say so. In addition, bottled water that is not labeled as containing fluoride may contain up to 2.4 milligrams per liter of fluoride. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Chemical contaminants bottled water may have in it.
The FDA allows set levels of the following chemical contaminants in all bottled water. Amounts vary, but some are shocking, such as Barium. FDA regulations permit up to 2.0 milligrams per liter of barium. That is nearly the same as natural fluorides, even though barium is a toxic metallic element. Cyanide, another poison, is permitted in bottled water. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Here is a sampling of chemical contaminants bottled water has in it, along with the permitted milligrams per liter.
Ethylbenzene (100-41-4)………………. 0.7
Monochlorobenzene (108-90-7)………….. 0.1
Styrene (100-42-5)…………………… 0.1
Toluene (108-88-3)…………………… 1.0
Xylenes (1330-20-7)………………….. 10.0
Pesticides bottled water may have in it.
The FDA allows set levels of pesticides in bottled water. There are set limits for each of 29 different pesticides. People who purchase bottled water believe, normally, that they are avoiding pesticides by doing so. For a listing of these pesticides, see 21 CFR 165.110[b].
Disinfectants bottled water may have in it.
The FDA allows bottled water to contain set levels of residual disinfectants and disinfection byproducts. Examples from 21 CFR 165.110[b]:
Haloacetic acids (five) (HAA5)………. 0.060
Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM)………… 0.080
Chloramine………………………… 4.0 (as Cl2)
Chlorine………………………….. 4.0 (as Cl2)
Chlorine dioxide…………………… 0.8 (as ClO2)
Radioactive materials bottled water may have in it.
The FDA allows bottled water to contain set levels of radioactive material. See 21 CFR 165.110[b]. Three examples:
“The bottled water shall not contain a combined radium-226 and radium-228 activity in excess of 5 picocuries per liter of water.”
“The bottled water shall not contain a gross alpha particle activity in excess of 15 picocuries per liter of water.”
“The bottled water shall not contain uranium in excess of 30 micrograms per liter of water.”
Bottled water has in it more than regulations allow. When bottled water does not meet the standards set out by the FDA, it might still be sold. By law, it should bear a suitable label. Examples:
“Contains Excessive Bacteria”
“Contains Excessive Arsenic”
What You Can Do?
Take time to know what bottled water has in it. Look for bottlers’ web sites and compare information. Remember that bottled water does not mean absolute purity. Be sure yours is healthy drinking water.
Ban the Bottle and stay hydrated! Make it a habit to carry a glass or stainless-steel water bottle, neither of these materials leach anything into water. Making them healthy alternatives to plastic while reducing your out of pocket cost and the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. It’s a win-win!
Take it a step further and filter your tap water! Our next article on the issues with tap water will tell you more about what’s in your tap water and what you can do about it.