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Danger in a Bottle

Does bottled water tap out?

Yoojin Lee

Fall 2005

bottle water tap purity pure    As Americans, we are fortunate enough to live in a country in which clean, drinkable tap water is readily available and bottled water is offered as a fancier alternative. Recently, the use of bottled water in our country has become so widespread that it is often considered more of a necessity than a luxury. This growing trend is largely due to the commonly held misconception that bottled water is healthier and more pure than water that comes from the tap.

    In a poll taken among college students—a group highly prone to bottled water usage—a whopping 73 percent rated water quality as their number one reason for choosing bottled water over tap water. The issue of convenience ranked a distant second, followed by taste. More and more people are choosing bottled water because they believe it is cleaner or because it does not taste of chlorine. Moreover, in countries like America, in which water purity is not as much of a concern, the consumption of bottled water is no longer just an issue of safety or taste--it is becoming a way of life.

    The “purity hype” surrounding bottled water is merely a marketing gimmick, albeit a successful one. The bottled water industry has experienced the largest growth out of all beverage industries, including the alcohol industry. Bottled water marketers create the illusion that bottled water is purer than water from the tap, yet 25 percent of bottled water has been shown to be nothing more than tap water. Just last year, the Food Standard Agency in Britain investigated the Coca-Cola company after authorities discovered that the source of Dasani had actually been London tap water. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s leading competitor, sells the single most popular brand of bottled water in America, Aquafina. Contrary to what the label’s soothing pictures of mountain springs may suggest, however, Pepsi also bottles its water not from remote mountain ranges, but from the tap.

    Despite what most people believe, the quality of bottled water is not even on par with that of tap water. In America, bottled water is regulated just as any other packaged food product, making bottled water less rigorously regulated than water supplied by the city. For example, the city water system tests for Fecal coliform bacteria--bacteria found in human and animal feces--several times a day whereas a bottling plant conducts this test only once a week. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of bottled water sold in the nation is not subject to U.S. regulations because the regulations apply only to bottled water sold over state lines. While none of the nation’s major bottled water corporations were available for questions, General Manager Andrew Mooradian of Monadnock Mountain Spring Water states that his company “tests daily for bacteria and once a week have an outside state-certified lab test.” Mooradian also insists that since bottled water is an alternative to tap water, it does not compete with public water supplies. Nonetheless, “the benefit of bottled water,” he says, “is that it is consistent.” Currently, no shelf life for bottled water has been set by the FDA. “There is no law in place, but the industry standard is two years,” says Mooradian.

    According to a study done at the Department of Microbiology at Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana, India, nine out of nine randomly chosen bottles of water—each from a different brand such as Aquafina, Fresh ‘n Cool, and Spring- well—were evaluated to be unfit for human consumption. In the study, all brands tested positive for bacteria which should not have been present, including Salmonella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Clostridium perfringens. Four brands tested positive for Escherichia coli, while all brands except Aquafina tested positive for Fecal coliform.

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