Dr. Boggess (Medical Director)
Dr. Tony Boggess is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician, speaker, and writer who specializes in Nutritional and... read more
Water Filtration Resources
It is important to understand that Water, in its purest form, is the most important clarifying and healing tonic available. We can even think of drinking water as essentially the same for the inside of the body as a shower is for the outside of the body. It cleans and maintains all 100 trillion cells in our body—so it makes perfect sense the water we consume should be as clean and pure as possible.
The only problem is healthy water isn’t found now days simply by turning on the tap or buying bottled water.
In the following article, I’ll discuss the many chemical hazards found in our drinking water. I’ll also share my well-researched opinions on municipal and bottled water regulations, Water Quality Reports, filtration systems and toxic vs. non-toxic storage systems.
Water Quality & Cancer
Before the modern chemical era, a person had a one in six chance of developing some form of cancer in his or her lifetime. Today, coming into contact with well over 100,000 additional chemicals (new ones every day) in water, food, cleaning and personal products, the risk of developing cancer has increased to one in three. This means the likelihood of getting cancer has doubled in less than a century, making it highly likely that a century from now most people will develop some form of cancer if they live long enough. As consumers we should be aware that our environment has been so overwhelmed by man-made chemicals that varying amounts can be detected in ALL plants, animals, aqua creatures and human beings. In fact, chemicals can even be detected in a newborn baby’s blood, and much higher levels can be detected accumulating in the fat cells, hair, and nervous tissues of ALL older children and adults. Varying amounts of chemicals are now also found in ALL soil, air, and waters. But by far the greatest concern is contamination of our drinking water, which is where most chemicals from industrial, agricultural, and environmental pollution end up! Sadly, however, legally mandated chemicals being added to our water supply have led to an even greater problem, as chlorine and chlorine-like chemicals used for disinfection react easily with pollutants in our water; the consequence being, too many toxic chemicals for scientist to name them all.
190 Cancer promoting chemicals in Tap Water! One study reported by the Clean Water Action Project in 2002, found that in the United States alone there are over 2,100 chemicals in our drinking water thus far that have been studied and are known to cause various adverse health effects! Of these, 97 are known carcinogens, 82 are mutagens (cancer contributors), 23 are tumor promoters, and 28 are acute and/or chronic poisons… That’s 190 chemicals in our tap water known to cause cancer at varying concentrations! Facts being as they are, the only way we can protect ourselves from these contaminants is to be well informed about them, and, more importantly, to be well informed about how to protect ourselves and our families from ingesting them. Which brings us to two very important topics: Water Quality Reporting and By-products of Disinfection
Water Quality Reporting:
What do those annual Water Quality Reports mailed to our homes really mean? Every year, water facilities are required to inform consumers in detail about chemical hazards in municipal water sources. However, these reports are overwhelming and confusing for most people, and they distract us mostly with announcements that no violations have occurred.
However, as consumers, we should ask ourselves: What does ‘no violations’ really mean?
No violations of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards usually mean either one or both of the following:
1) The water was cleared of hazards to the extent possible by average water processing technology. That is, the water is as clean as most water plants can get it using today’s methods;
2) contamination’s have been excused by using N/A (not applicable), because they have not been studied yet, and so they do not have a number value corresponding to allowable concentrations of chemical based on EPA accepted limits.
As far as a rating system goes, these arbitrary limits are difficult to understand and misleading, because they are essentially a fair tradeoff between dangers of consuming and the best we (the water treatment facilities) can clean the water using today’s average filtering technologies. To illustrate, consider the typical look and feel of an annual Water Quality Report mailed to the residents of Luckyville, for example:
An Important Message from the Village of Luckyville Public Water Works:
Luckyville Again Meets or Exceeds All Federal and State Drinking Water Standards in 2007! This will invariably be followed by several paragraphs of good news verbiage, a diagram of the filtering and purification methods used, and a detailed description of all the chemicals added to drinking water (namely, chlorine and fluoride) for your family’s protection and benefit. Two or three pages into the report (if one reads in that far), a fairly complicated looking water table will be presented with columns along the top border and abbreviations like: MCLG (Maximum Contaminate Level Goal), MCL(Maximum Contaminate Level), AL (Action Level), Range of Detection, Level Found, and Violations.
Usually vertically, all measured contaminants are listed with so-called “unregulated contaminants” and “byproducts of disinfection” found toward the end of the table.
Please note the definitions of MCL, MCLG, and AL and how these numbers lend themselves to adjustment based on current technology and emerging information regarding health risk.
*MCLG: The level of contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health.
*MCL: The highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water set as close to the MCLGs as feasible using the best available treatment technology.
*AL: The concentration of a contaminant, which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements, which a water system must follow [if any such requirements have been developed].
Note that in each city’s Water Quality Report, the ratings in the MCL, MCLG, or both columns will inevitably post N/A (not applicable) for the following contaminants, generally grouped together as by-products of disinfection:
“By-products of water chlorination” - Total Haloacetic Acids (HAAS), Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Monobromoacetic Acid, Haloacetonitriles, Chloroform, Chloral Hydrate, Haloketones, Dechloroacetic Acid, Dibromoacetic Acid
“Other unregulated contaminants’’ - Radioactive contaminants, Arsenic, Mercury [natural and industrial waste products (for example, mining)], Boron [natural and used in pesticides], Bromoform [discharge from manufacturing plants], DDT [runoff from use as a contact insecticide], Acetochlor [runoff from use as a herbicide], Total Organic Halides [present due to the reactions between chlorine, organic material, and bromide], Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) [used as an octane booster in gasoline], Fluoride [water additive, which the ADA says promotes strong teeth] (Specifically discussed in The Fluoride Controversy)
So again, what does it mean when MCLG = 50ppb and MCL = 50 ppb? Or, when MCLG = N/A and MCL = 50 ppb or vice versa? Or when MCLG and MCL both = N/A?
Also note, if you look hard enough, embedded somewhere in the scientific jargon and toward the end of the report, you’ll see a warning statement that looks something like this: ”Some people who drink water containing excess amounts of Trihalomethanes over many years are known to experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system and may have increased risk of getting cancer. Children who are developing are especially susceptible to contaminants in water, such as lead and by-products of chlorination.” As indicated above, it is important to realize that “N/A” in conjunction with a short paragraph about the potential dangers of by-products of disinfection, is the full extent to which consumers are currently being warned about these modern-day chemicals in the public water supply.
Well it’s not enough! And in this context, the use of N/A does not bode well in my opinion for future ill implications associated with ingesting these chemicals. It rather reminds me of how lead was once thought of as a menace rather than the true health hazard it turned out to be. Decades past, warnings went unheeded, and countless millions of children exposed to paint dust and gas fumes suffered from learning disabilities, brain damage and bone diseases before the lead issue was finally addressed… Yet ultimately, despite all attempts to refute concerns raised early on by just a handful of researchers, lead testing is standard practice today in pediatric medicine.
Need I say more?
**Online Resources for Water Quality
Search for the online version of your city’s Water Quality Report using U.S. EPA across America webpage Or from any search engine, type in your city (or nearest largest city) and “Water Quality Report,” which is the best way we found to search for a PDF copy of your city’s annual report.
Also see NRDC’s 2003 drinking water report card by city: What’s on Tap? Grading Drinking Water in U.S. Cities
So now that we have learned how to find and read Water Quality Reports, let’s learn more about By-Products of Disinfection, where they come from, and why we should avoid ingesting them.
By-Products of Disinfection
What are these ominous chemicals, where do they come from, and why should we avoid ingesting them?
Put simply, by-products of disinfection are the natural outcome when powerful free-radical disinfectants (namely chlorine) meet generally accepted pollutants (namely pesticides, herbicides and gasoline additives).
You see, we in the western world believe our water is far safer to drink and bathe in than places like Mexico, China and India because it does not harbor bacteria. And in the short run, we are safer. However, the reason we do not have a problem with bacteria is we use chlorine in our water. Yet, unfortunately that little Cl molecule is not particularly interested in killing just bacteria; it wants an electron and will stop at nothing to get it. The reason it does not kill us as it does bacteria, is because we are much more complex and made up of trillions of cells as opposed to just one (like bacteria). Nevertheless, do not be fooled, it does kill our cells and absorbs rapidly into our blood from mucous membranes in our mouth when we brush our teeth and digestive tract when we drink it. For the most part, however, we can sustain any amount of injury chlorine can dish out without noticing much damage.
What’s worse, however, is chlorine also has a tendency to steal electrons from other chemicals now found in public water supply like:
pesticides, herbicides, industrial pollution, gasoline additives and other water purification chemicals
These chemicals, stemming from technological advancements and modern-day carelessness, turn quite violent when chlorine steals their electrons, and what results are “By-products of disinfection,” which are radical hybrids now being linked to cancer and central nervous system injuries. Some, are volatile enough to be inhaled in the shower, others are easily absorbed into our bodies when we ingest them. This new class of chemicals literally wreaks havoc on cells and genetic material within cells. However, these facts aren’t mere conjecture nor are they breaking news. The EPA has been releasing preliminary reports indicating the truth about such hazards and has focused its investigation on one chemical in particular—Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE)
**(See: EPA Drinking Water Advisory: Consumer Acceptability Advice and Health Effects Analysis on MTBE)
Perhaps you’ll remember how the EPA openly discussed the dangers of MTBE in 2000 during an episode of 20/20, and the next day President Clinton wrote an executive order to stop adding it to gasoline. One problem arose, however:
There was far too much MTBE stockpiled to dispose of quickly and inexpensively. So, an addendum was added to the original executive order stating, “after all current stockpiles of MTBE are exhausted,” which would have occurred by the end of 2005. However, the Bush administration was not supportive, thus MTBE was not banned, but merely reduced.
Cancer & Birth Defects
Of course, it needs to be said that I’m not saying we are all going to get cancer from drinking and bathing in chlorinated water, but in light of all that is being discovered, I hope you agree it IS worth taking precautions. Especially since there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that long-term exposure to chlorinated water does increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer (**see reports by University of Toronto and the Medical College of Wisconsin).
Even more concerning, however, for expectant mothers, studies have shown a link between Tri-halomethane exposure in excess of 80 parts per billion and increased incidence of miscarriage and birth defects like Spina Bifida (**see reports by The California Department of Health and the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).
Plus, researchers at the New Jersey Department of Health point out that mothers who drink water with a high level of Trihalomethanes are more likely to give birth to low birth weight babies with various birth defects (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 141, No. 9, May 1, 1995, p. 850-62). And researchers at the University of Arizona report that children whose parents had been exposed to drinking water contaminated with trichloroethylene were three times more likely to be born with congenital heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Vol. 16, No. 1, July 1990, pp. 155-64).
Thus it’s easy to see that it’s best for everyone, especially pregnant women, to avoid drinking and bathing in unfiltered chlorinated water if possible.
Though consumers these days are becoming more aware of the dangers associated with drinking municipal water, few realize the even greater risks associated with showering in it. While the reality is filtering drinking water is important, it’s not enough! In fact, it’s now estimated that of all the chemical hazards in municipal water (some 2,100 altogether), the three chemical exposures from 10 minutes of inhaling “shower steam,” namely Chloroform, DCA (Dichloro acedic acid) and MX (another chlorinated acid gas) are equal to, if not worse, than an entire day’s worth of drinking all the others combined.
Why so Toxic?
Chloroform, DCA and MX are concentrated in steam up to 100 times more than drinking water because their chemical properties allow them to evaporate at relatively low temperatures. This means each time we shower in unfiltered water we are, in a sense, turning our bathrooms into a Chloroform, DCA and MX gas chamber, revaporizing these by-products, inhaling them into our lungs and transferring them directly into our blood compartment. If you combine this with the fact that heat and steam cause the largest organ of the body (our skin) to open its pores wide and absorb these chemicals like a sponge, it becomes clear why if we bathe and shower in unfiltered tap water we’re inhaling and absorbing an alarming amount of chlorine by-products. What’s more, once we’ve finished gassing ourselves, when we open the bathroom door, we gas the rest of the family too. Thus, by the time everyone finishes showering in the morning, the entire house is full of these subtle poisons, which is kind of scary, especially when one learns that…
Chloroform, for example, was once used as an anesthetic, until the FDA banned it in 1976, when it was found to cause cancer. It is also known to cause excessive free-radical damage and oxidation of cholesterol, which accelerates the aging process, hardens arteries, and slowly destroys your body’s tissues and organs.
DCA causes excessive free radical damage and alters cholesterol metabolism as well, and it attacks cellular DNA, predisposing to the development of cancers.
MX is considered by the EPA to be the “single-largest” contributing mutagen (chemical that causes genetic mutations) in today’s municipal water. Harmful as it is, it’s been found in every municipal water source ever tested for it.
But wait there’s more!
Chlorine and its by-products destroy proteins too, and they are suspected to be linked to fibro-muscular diseases—like fibromyalgia; also chronic fatigue, eye problems, and worsening of allergic/autoimmune diseases. They also cause hair to become dry and brittle, and skin to flake, itch, and develop rashes (especially true with infants and children). Inhaling them also aggravates respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. But again, none of this is breaking news, nor is it mere conjecture. Evidence of chlorine by-products collecting in steam has been mounting since the early 1980s, and many respected authorities are now coming forward to warn the public about health hazards associated with inhaling them…
“We conclude that skin absorption of contaminants in drinking water has been underestimated and that ingestion may not constitute the sole or even primary route of exposure.” American Journal of Public Health, May, 1984, Vol. 74, No. 5
“Taking showers is a health risk, according to research presented last week in a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Showers – and to a lesser extent baths – lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contained in water supplies than does drinking water. The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others.” New Scientist -18 September 1986, Ian Anderson
“A long, hot shower can be dangerous. The toxic chemicals are inhaled in high concentrations.” Bottom Line – August 1987, J Andelman, Ph. D.
“Ironically, even the chlorine widely used to disinfect water produces carcinogenic traces. Studies indicate the suspect chemicals can also be inhaled and absorbed through the skin during showering and bathing.” U. S. News & World Report – 29 July 1991, Is your Water Safe – The Dangerous State of Your Water
“Studies have documented the presence in the drinking water of many potentially toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) – from chloroform and pesticides to carbon tetrachloride. Such findings have spurred investigations into the inhalation hazards these compounds may pose when released in the air during baths and showers.” John C. Little, Lawrence Berkeley ( California ) Laboratory, Science News, August 15, 1992
“The steamy air of a shower contains significant amounts of at least two cancer-causing chemicals that evaporate out of water.” J Andelman, Professor of Water Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh
“Almost two decades have passed since known or suspected human carcinogens were first found in municipal water supplies. One of them, chloroform, produced by the chlorination process, exposes millions of Americans. The potential for a major public health problem is unquestionably there, and yet, progress has been slow.” Dr. Peter Isacson, M.D., Professor of Epidemiology, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine
“Showering is suspected as the primary cause of elevated levels of chloroform in nearly every home because of the chlorine in the water. Chloroform [a known carcinogen] levels increase up to 100 times during a ten-minute shower in residential water” Environmental Protection Agency – Dr. Lance Wallace
“A Professor of Water Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh claims that exposure to vaporized chemicals in the water supplies through showering, bathing, and inhalation is 100 greater than through drinking the water.” The Nader Report, Troubled Waters on Tap – Center for Study of Responsive Law
“The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 200 to 1,000 people die in the United States each year from cancers caused by ingesting the contaminants in water. The major health threat posed by these pollutants is far more likely to be from their inhalation as air pollutants. The reason that emissions are high is because water droplets dispersed by the shower head have a larger surface-to-value ratio than water streaming into the bath.” Science News-Vol. 130, Janet Raloff
Compare these facts and figures:
According to an article printed in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (Vol. 14, 1991, pp. 297-312) the estimated lifetime risk of developing cancer from daily exposure to chlorinated tap water is anywhere from 20 to 100 per 100,000 person-years. These numbers, when compared to the risk of developing leukemia or breast cancer due to x-ray exposure (nine and 50 per 100,000, respectively), are quite significant. Yet no one is exactly wrapping themselves in lead, so-to-speak, before using chlorinated water…
Also note that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bases its current regulations on the risks associated solely with drinking tap water, and DO NOT consider the added risk of the inhaled and absorbed contaminants from showering and bathing in it. Thus, while the EPA considers a cancer risk of 10 per 100,000 too high, setting its limits of chloroform in water, for example, to correspond to a lifetime risk of about two per 100,000, these numbers are still far too high. In fact, according to some scientists, when inhaled shower steam is figured into the equation, the “actual” risk jumps anywhere from 10 to 50 times greater than what is currently being reported by the EPA.
The bottom line is, in terms of cumulative health risk (barring smoking and working with toxic chemicals), “showering in chlorinated water is one of the most dangerous activities we engage in every day!”
One simple measure you can take immediately to reduce the risks to you and your family is to obviously decrease the amount of shower steam you inhale (i.e. take cooler showers, keep your bathroom fan running, open all bathroom windows while showering, and keep them open for some time after you’ve finished). But if you are truly interested in taking good care of yourself and your family, a quality shower filter (or whole home filtration system) is an absolute must. (See Water Filtration for details)
Why aren’t consumers being warned?
One can speculate that the bottom line is nothing can be done on a large scale about suspect chemicals polluting our water supply. Thus, governing bodies like the EPA have little alternative but to play down their significance.
The situation rather reminds me again of how Lead poisoning was once considered a minor menace rather than the real health hazard it turned out to be. Warnings went unheeded for decades, resulting in the exposure of countless millions of children to paint dust and gas fumes, from which even today, many are suffering from learning disabilities and brain damage…
So why do we chlorinate water?
First off, let’s understand that the pollution resulting from chlorine production is one of today’s top environmental threats. In fact, it has been documented that just a handful of chlorine factories in the US are among the nation’s largest sources of mercury pollution. This means, the chlorine industry is one of the reasons why wild fish, contaminated with excess levels of mercury are no longer safe to eat (see Toxic Fish for more details).
However, this is not just a local problem. Mercury contamination is considered ubiquitous because emissions from chlorine factories and other sources (like power plants) can be wind-borne for thousands of miles before falling to the surface, contaminating water, and concentrating in the tissues of animals—including seafood, wildlife, and human beings. Bearing in mind that even slight amounts of mercury have been correlated, and in some cases, definitively linked to Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, kidney problems, infertility, and other nervous system abnormalities (like neurotransmitter imbalances, mood disorders, memory loss, and so forth), such ongoing pollution should indeed be concerning to everyone.
How did we come to need chlorine in the first place?
Well, from the beginning, mankind has been drinking and swimming in natural sources of water and has fared just fine. In fact, some of the microscopic creatures in water, such as soil bacteria and algae, for example, are actually beneficial for us to consume. However, mankind took a bizarre turn when we came up with the bright idea of collecting human waste, adding chemicals to it, and then putting it back into our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans… In fact, countless millions of people fall ill each year from all the inadequately treated sewage that ends up in the water we drink and play in.
The bottom line is, we were simply never meant to consume the bacteria, parasites, and viruses that live in our feces—and because they are being inadvertently added to our drinking water, we need chemicals (namely, chlorine) to kill them, so they won’t kill us.
Of course, this is not to say the days of bubonic plague and throwing waste out the window into the street were any better. But there are better options than chlorine chemicals worth considering …
One proposal to eradicate the need for chlorine is to convert all chlorination plants into facilities using ozone or ultraviolet light to kill pathogens (there are also filters for non-chlorinated well water using this technology).
In fact, many earth-friendly advocate groups question why such alternatives are not being pursued, and conclude it’s because there is a tremendous amount of money involved in making waste processing chemicals. Which mean that lobbyists are likely spending ample energy in Washington to keep things just as they are unfortunately…
Water Testing & Filtration
Though filtering tap water is an important requisite for long-term preventative health, testing it can also help you identify more immediate threats. So if your water is especially chemical laden, and you want more objective information then the yearly ‘Water Quality’ report from your water company, then we recommend having your water professionally analyzed.
However, regardless of what the test tells us, (and this is an opinion shared by many health professionals), EVERYONE needs a reliable filtration system to remove potential hazards from the water before drinking or bathing in it.
But don’t just take my word for it. Research the topic yourself, and then decide what is best for you and your family.
Also, please tell others about the problem with public water. And if they’re parents, tell them to pay special attention, as these things tend to have a greater impact on our children, especially those who already display a lack of neurological resilience (i.e. autism, ADHD, mood and behavior disorders, et cetera.)
AquaMD is the water-testing division of the American Water Council: A nationally recognized water education service committed to increasing awareness about potential hazards of drinking water and advancing the science behind diagnosing those hazards. They provide a number of home water evaluation packages, the on-line version of which is free, fast, thorough and highly recommended. As with most free services, other packages are also available. And again, if you want to know the details about your water quality beyond the annual report that comes to your house, we do suggest having AquaMD analyze it for you. Otherwise, for your free water evaluation visit **AquaMD.com
In light of the situation, the most treatment facilities can do at this time is report the activity levels of chemical by-products in water from city to city. However, it is up to us, the consumers, to ensure drinking and bathing water meets our own standards before it enters our drinking glasses and comes out our showerheads.
However, if chemical pollutants are not cleared by standard technology at water treatment facilities, it stands to reason we will need more than just an average water filter to protect ourselves and our families.
The undeniable truth is tap water poses a significant risk to human health. Fortunately, it’s one risk that is totally modifiable. Also, because of the increased risk associated with showering and bathing in chlorinated water, filtering drinking water alone is not enough; and small under the sink, faucet tip, reverse osmosis, micro filtration systems by themselves are not adequate either.
Options abound to help make water safer, but a proper filter is one product in particular you will definitely want to purchase consciously. Again, the $40-50 filters with $20-30 replacement cartridges sold in retail stores aren’t your safest and most economical option. But of course, they are better than nothing…
Additionally, DON’T get trapped buying an expensive filtration system that requires frequent replacement filters at $100 or more each time you replace it; but DO make sure any filter system you buy uses advanced technology and adequately protects you and your loved ones… At an absolute minimum, a filter for your home should eliminate more than 98% of all radioactive compounds, MTBE, pesticides, and hybrid chlorine species. It should also remove 99% of the lead and other heavy metals in your water.
If you’re interested in a distiller system where water is boiled, evaporated, then vapor-condensed into pure H2O, that’s an OK option too, depending on who you talk to. Just be certain to place it in the sun to re-energize it and replace the natural minerals lost during the process before drinking or using it.
Finally, also learn the facts about bottled water, and avoid it to the extent possible; especially if it’s been left in the hot sun or it has expired (the expiry date is usually stamped as two years after the date of bottling). And remember, if you taste plastic, you are no doubt drinking plastic chemicals! (See next section for more information.)
If you would like to purchase one of our recommended attached or whole-home water filtration systems (lowest price guaranteed), please call 734 929-2696 and ask for Cassie
An Argument against Bottled Water
Simply stated: Bottled Water is neither healthy nor wise!
In fact, in some cases it’s a potential health hazard. (Beware, the taste of plastic!). And if nothing else, it’s a verifiable rip-off. (Beware, your pocket book!)
Why a potential health hazard?
First, the **Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rather than the **Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates bottled water. So while tap water testing and results are freely available for public scrutiny, there are no similar requirements for bottled water. Thus, bottling regulations are iffy at best, allowing for a near total lack of accountability for those bottling and selling so-called natural spring or purified waters. Currently, companies are allowed to resell water from public taps, underground wells, and natural springs without stating on the label where it originated, or identifying the type of purifying equipment (if any) used in processing. In fact, it is estimated more than 25% of bottled and commercial waters sold in the US come from the same ground and surface waters as municipal water, and as much as 40% of this is derived directly from the tap, with minimal, and sometimes no additional, treatment! This means bottled waters are likely to be contaminated by the same kinds of pollutants and chemicals found in today’s public water.
What is worse, however, is the fact that the rules for contaminants in bottled water are even less stringent then public water, allowing for the sale of water as a “food product” under the following conditions:
1. It meets minimal tap standards for most (not all) chemicals.
2. It does not contain any living organisms, i.e. no living bugs. (Does that mean dead bugs are OK…?)
3. And it conforms to higher (less strict) limits than tap water standards for the following specified contaminants:
E. coli, Giardia and other bacteria, which are markers of fecal contamination.
Acrylamide, Asbestos and Lead, all of which are known health hazards.
Fluoride, Haloacetic Acids, Phthalate and Trihalomethanes (Discussed in detail in the Water Quality article)
Second, bottled water does not require testing by certified labs, as do municipal water sources reporting to the EPA. This means if products do not cross state lines they are completely self-regulated and are not even looked at by the FDA! For these reasons, bottled water often contains (but is not required to list) any number of the following tasteless and odorless, “unregulated contaminants,” ever-present in the environment due to chemical, industrial, and agricultural pollution and runoff.
2,2-Dichloropropane, 1,3-Dichloropropene, 1,1-Dichloropropene, 1,1-Dichloroethane, 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane, 1,3-Dichloropropane, m-Dichlorobenzene, Dibromomethane, Chloromethane, Bromomethane, Chloroethane, Bromobenzene, 1,3-Dichloropropane, 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane, o-Chlorotoluene,p-Chlorotoluene
Even the World Health Organization (WHO), in its fact sheet section on bottled water, states, “Drinking-water may be contaminated by a range of chemical, microbial and physical hazards that could pose risks to health if they are present at high levels.” (**See article)
In 1999, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) tested more than 1,000 bottles (over 100 brands) of water and found over 30% to be contaminated with levels of synthetic chemicals, bacteria and arsenic in violation of state, federal, and industry standards. What’s more, some brands which were advertised as natural spring water actually came from public taps, or worse! One brand, which displayed a lake and mountains on its label, derived its “spring water” from a “natural well” near a chemical waste site in an industrial neighborhood of Massachusetts!
See **NRDC’s 4-year study of bottled waters and their petition to the FDA
Also, see how your favorite bottled water brand measures up, by reviewing: **NRDC’s Summary of contaminates by vendor and Trade name.
Finally, bottled waters are unhealthy because of the amount of time (often years) they remain stored in cheap, recycled plastic bottles leaching chemicals into the water!
While there’s no doubt the industry dismisses the idea of significant leaching of plasticizers, research has shown it does occur. For example, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tested 80 samples of bottled water, and found 46 to be contaminated with traces of Phthalate (DEHP), a hormone disrupter and known carcinogen from plastics. Even more concerning, however, is the fact that 12 of these samples right off the store shelf exceeded federal safety limits for DEHP ingestion.
In considering all these facts, it’s important to remember that the issue of leaching plastics is controversial, and many scientists have emphatically refuted the notion of dangers associated with plastic chemicals in foods and beverages.
Yet, irrespective of arguments on either side of the issue; and in keeping with our common-sense approach to consuming, the acid test for you should be: “If it tastes or smells like plastic, then you’re probably eating and drinking plastic, which isn’t ideal, healthy, or wise.” This notion holds true no matter how many scientists say otherwise.
Of course, this all goes without saying that I’m not claiming bottled water is going to harm anyone right away. Consumers are exposed to countless chemical hazards, and plastic chemicals in food and water are merely some of them… So remember, “It’s the dose that makes the poison.” But more importantly, “It’s the cumulative dose of the poison that makes the disease.” So it goes without saying, it’s probably best to ingest as little chemicals and pollutants as possible.
Why a rip-off?
Recall that brand of bottled water from Massachusetts I mentioned that was discovered by the NRDC? Well, apparently, the bottlers were able to call their water “natural spring” because it bubbled up “naturally” from time to time in an industrial parking lot!
As consumers, it is important to understand this kind of outrageous fibbing doesn’t end with just a few “no-namer” brands. Words such as ‘pure,’ ‘pristine,’ ‘glacial,’ ‘natural,’ and so forth are routinely added to product labels to dupe consumers into believing the water they’re buying is exceptionally clean and healthy, even if it is little more than minimally processed tap water.
And while the largely self-regulated bottled water industry claims it does not endorse such lying in advertising, no one is exactly enforcing the truth either; and certainly nothing is being done about “harmless” exaggerating. As in the example of one well-known company caught advertising “Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water… from the Last Unpolluted Frontier,” when in reality, it was nothing more than processed tap water from a Public System in Juneau, Alaska.
Even soft drink giants such as Pepsi and Coke are hip to the lucrative water game, bottling their brands “Aquafina,” and “Dasani.” As US News & World Report points out, these products, too, are merely purified tap water coming from places like “Wichita, Kansas” (Pepsi’s Aquafina), and “Queens, New York, and Jacksonville, Florida” (Coke’s Dasani). While others, like Everest, come from “southern Texas,” Yosemite comes from the suburbs of Los Angeles… and the list goes on; which shows it’s not the quality of the product that sells, but rather the cleverness of the advertising.
Not withstanding the power of mass advertising and the corporate clout behind big-selling brands, there are signs of public resistance to misleading adverts. For example, legal action has been instituted against Nestlé’s Waters North America, for suggesting its most popular brand of bottled water, Poland Spring, came from “some of the most pristine and protected sources deep in the woods of Maine.” The plaintiffs claimed this assertion was grossly misleading for decades, because the original Poland Spring was shut down in 1967. Since then, the plaintiffs say, the company has gleaned its water from man-made wells, at least one of which comes from a parking lot alongside a busy highway… In its defense, the company asserts, “Poland Spring is exactly what we say it is—natural spring water.”
Nestlé’s other brands include Arrowhead, Deer Park, Aberfoyle, Zephyrhills, Ozarka and Ice Mountain. And who is to say they’re not exaggerating, or even lying, about these waters as well? Clearly, if a company as large and well endowed as Nestlé resorts to being dishonest to count more dollars, they’ve lost my trust and I’ll simply scratch their products from my buying list.
So as you can see, not only is bottled water a”potential health hazard,” it is also a”verifiable rip-off.”
And though bottled water is often even less healthy for us to drink than tap water, consumers have been duped into paying anything from 500 to 10,000 times more per gallon to drink it! In other words, we pay about $1.50 for a 20 oz bottle, which equates to more than $8 per gallon. FOR WATER!
Now that’s more than organic milk, fresh squeezed organic juice and some brands of red wine!
Having said this, it’s important to realize the reputation of bottled water is highly protected by manufacturers. In recent years, bottled water as a saleable commodity has exploded, with worldwide sales annually reaching over $40 billion. This, along with the fact that bottled water has a huge profit margin and little to no production cost, makes it unlikely that any real information about associated hazards will become available to consumers anytime soon. Therefore, the best option available is to consume high-quality filtered water stored in non-toxic glass or polycarbonate containers.
Beware the taste of plastic!
Why are so many people in the developed western world afflicted by cancer, autoimmune diseases, and allergies? And why are our children so hormonally over-developed, acquiring breast and facial hair too soon and too quickly? Could such ill effects be related to the many chemicals found in today’s processed foods, or all the hormones being injected into today’s dairy, eggs, and non-organic meats? Could it have anything to do with all the chemical insults we’re exposed to daily, such as phytoestrogens and endocrine disruptors leaching from plastics into our foods and beverages?
It’s important to understand that plastic food and water storage containers become unstable over time and leach synthetic estrogens such as Bisphenol A (BPA), endocrine disrupters such as Dioxin, and Phthalate (DEHP), as well as trace polysulfone, alkylphenolic, polyalylate, and certain polyester resins into our food and water. Many of these chemicals are known to be hazardous to our health and in some cases are overtly carcinogenic. This is one reason why consumers really should store food and beverages in glass containers, whenever possible.
Even so-called “stable plastics,” like those used to make the ever-popular Nalgene bottle, have been found to leach potentially harmful chemicals! (See article)
Also, if you’re bottle-feeding your baby, you will most certainly want to use glass bottles instead of plastic ones. Note also that studies have shown that plastic chemicals are released to an even greater degree in conjunction with microwave and dishwasher use, so never microwave your food in plastic, and never microwave or dish-wash plastic baby bottles!
Bottom line is, with even the slightest potential of causing harm to you or your loved ones, why not just use good old-fashioned glass or stainless steal, which are bio-friendly (do not pollute the environment with hydrocarbons in the manufacturing process like plastics do. These materials are also time- tested, stable, and the healthiest way to store your food and water.
The other options are Polypropylene, and possibly Polycarbonate. Look for the #5 and #7, respectively, in the recycle triangle. While these are not as environmentally friendly as glass, they appear to leach less plastic chemicals, making them a safer alternative to disposable recycled plastics.
Also, keep in mind that the environmental load associated with disposable plastics is enormous, weighing in at nearly two million tons a year for bottled water alone and an additional three to four million tons for all other beverages combined.
Finally, please remember, the FDA does not have a safety limit for plastic chemicals in foodstuffs and beverages, so it is entirely up to consumers to protect themselves and their families from ingesting them.