Dangers of Bottled Water

Do you constantly carry a bottle of water with you throughout the day? Well, you should be, right? That’s what healthy people do, right? After all, there has been unrelenting advertisements about switching to water and in the last ten years we have made an unbelievable shift in drink consumption from soda to water. We have been educated, trained, warned and informed. And it is great that so many of us stay hydrated throughout the day. But there’s a problem. A big problem. A problem so huge and expansive that most of us can’t even fathom.

We have been hearing lately of the massive overload on our environment from tossed plastic bottles ending up in streams, lakes and oceans. That is a huge problem. We are polluting our environment, overwhelming our landfills and poisoning marine life. But this still isn’t the worst part…

Plastic bottles are manufactured with styrene, which is made from refined crude oil, and through a very toxic process forms the small, thin bottles which will slowly leach out proven neuro-toxins into your water. Independent tests have been made on water in plastic bottles and shows significant levels of these chemicals and phthalates, which are estrogen like compounds that act in your body just like estrogen. Natural water sources where grey water is deposited consistently have fish with hormonal abnormalities due to phthalates from plastic and other sources being poured back into our streams and lakes. Bottles exposed to heat or sun, like those left in your car or out in flats on a loading dock, have much higher levels of these chemicals.

The larger, thicker plastic bottles, like those for water coolers are even worse. This type of plastic is proven to leach Bisphenol-A (BPA) into the water. The FDA maintains that low doses of this chemical is not toxic, but they base that off of two studies carried out by the industry that manufactures BPA! Conflict of interest anyone? Meanwhile, over 200 other independent studies have scientists very alarmed about the affects on our bodies.

At low doses, BPA interferes with natural estrogen getting into cells, and with increased exposure, can completely shut-off male reproductive systems. At high doses, it can shut down you body’s production of thyroid hormone. Vom Saal, a scientist interviewed for the documentary film Tapped says that BPA is: “one of the most toxic chemicals known to man”.
The Tapped website states that of these 200 independent scientific studies on BPA, they find it “relates to obesity, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, brain disorders like ADHD, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count in men—the list is endless.” (accessed 9/21/2010)

Bottled water companies also have MONDO marketing budgets to make sure we think we are drinking superior, natural mineral water. The problem is, most companies are just selling minimally filtered tap water. Now, there are brands that do bottle water at the source, providing in clean, spring water. But the percentage is sooooo small. Plus, it turns out that any regulation that we might assume exists on bottled water standards—don’t really exist. Thanks to a nifty interstate loop-hole, the FDA only regulates product that crosses state lines. The majority of bottled water companies, like Coca Cola and Pepsi, sell bottled water that was bottled in that state. Therefore, there is zero regulation or inspection on the water quality.

Are you mad yet? I am. So what can we do about all this? The first, and most important thing is to stop drinking out of plastic bottles!!! But what about the water? In the film Tapped, they make a strong argument for how safe tap water is and how often and rigorously the quality is checked and that it is not only perfectly safe to drink it, but you can’t tell the difference anyway.  Personally, I just can’t agree with that. I think that the water quality completely depends on the city, how the water treatment plant works, and the surrounding environmental factors. The constant safety tests done on municipal water is only include the specific things they check for. But pollutants like pesticide run-off and industrial pollution deep in the ground water are not on their tests. There is also the new discovery of pharmaceutical pollution from all the antibiotics used in farming and the runoff from human excretion (like the synthetic estrogens in urine from birth control pill use—my MD told me about that one). These things are not checked for. Plus, some treatment centers use more natural means of filtration, and others, like Phoenix, just dump tons of chlorine in the water.

Personally, I can taste the difference. I can’t stand the taste of most tap water. Even here, in Norway, where the tap water is as pure as the melted snow pouring down the mountain behind me, the water that comes out of our faucet tastes like tap water. But at my parents’ previous house, it tasted just fine and I liked it. So, the pipes in your home will also affect your water. Tap water may be just fine at the testing site, but it has to travel a very long way through all sorts of pipes to get to your faucet.

Luckily for you, dear reader, one of my first textbooks, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, had a very long and specific section of the book devoted to water treatment and filtration. According to Dr. Elson Haas, the best filtration system that is widely available to the public is reverse-osmosis. Having one of these little tanks under your sink will provide you with a very thorough filtration of your water. RO units filter out almost everything from chemicals like chlorine to organic materials and some bacteria. It will even filter out the minerals. However, these units are quite expensive and they take a while to do their work. The second best is a compressed charcoal filter, which even include the faucet mounting Brita and Pur systems. While these filters are not the best for removing all the bad stuff, they are pretty effective. Dr. Haas actually recommends using both systems together, first the RO, then the charcoal, but I don’t think that’s really realistic in a normal household.

So stop buying plastic bottled water and start carrying your own filtered water in a glass or stainless steel bottle. There are many of these new, stainless steel water bottles popping up all over the place now. I haven’t tried one, and I’m a little suspicious that my water would taste like metal. Personally, I prefer glass; but as it can be impractical to travel with, these other bottles seem to be fine.

Happy hydration!


Staying Healthy with Nutrition, By Elson Haas, MD 2008. (see Amazon link at right)

Tapped, a behind the scenes documentary on the bottled water industry.

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