Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's be clear. Bottled water is probably better than tap water

I visited a story on ( where author Claire Thompson previews a documentary film called Tapped. Tapped appears to be a documentary about water in it's various forms and appears to be set within a context of evil, polluting, big business and a complicit government. There is a trailer to the film at the link above.

Bottled water is a multi-billion dollar a year business. I think that fact alone begs the question, what is it that people don't like or trust about their tap water and motivates them to pay upwards of $9 per gallon of bottled water?

The text below is my letter to Claire Thompson responding to her review of the trailer.


I see you are in school studying to be a journalist. So, with no mal intent I would like to point out an important omission from your article that could lead people to misunderstand the situation.

Occasionally I will see an article or news story claiming, or at least inferring, that city water is as "clean" as bottled water. And, while this may be true at a microbiological level the word "clean" can be measured in many other ways.

As you point out in your article, a lot of bottled water is actually municipal tap water. What you did not point out is that this municipal tap water that has been bottled was processed through a filtration system known as reverse osmosis filtration (RO for short). This RO filtration removes not only bacteria and other biological contaminants but also non-biological contaminants like lead, arsenic, and undigested pharmaceuticals just to name a few. Equally as important, however, the RO process removes chlorine and fluoride, two chemicals added by the city municipal water processing plants. Chlorine is a chemical used to kill biological contaminants (similar to the way chlorine is used to keep swimming pools clear of biological contaminants) and fluoride is put into the water supply because it allegedly helps prevent tooth decay (although this is very debatable). The RO process removes both of these chemicals each of which have been linked to diseases like cancer.

So, to infer that city water is as "clean" as bottled water is not at all accurate and leaves the reader with the idea that there is no benefit in paying for bottled (RO) water when in fact there is a benefit to this higher priced product. Whether it is a good value at as much as $3 per 16 ounces is another discussion entirely.

Now that I have built up bottled water let me tear it down. The plastic used in most bottled water is type 1 plastic (the number "1" is printed in the recycling symbol at the bottom of the bottle.) It has been proven that this plastic, particularly when it is exposed to higher than room temperatures (like in a hot car) leaches BPAs into the water which have a variety of negative side effects (similar to chlorine actually) on the body. The human consumption of BPAs has been connected to cancer, lowered estrogen levels and other negative human side effects.

In addition, although the RO filtration process eliminates all bad biological and non-biological elements, it also removes all good mineral elements that naturally occur in water. This can also pose a health problem if too much RO water is consumed because the RO water (also known as "hungry water" or "dead water") will seek out the minerals that have been removed in order to return to its natural state. This means it will take these minerals from your body as it regains the natural elements that were filtered from it using RO.

Finally, the use of disposable plastic bottles is a environmental issue and a problem and one that can be addressed if consumers would get a simple carbon or (preferably) ceramic filter and just filled BPA free plastic bottles (with the number "5" in the recycle symbol at the bottom of the bottle) or food grade stainless steel bottles, which is what I do.

However, if sitting thirsty in a restaurant without my Kleen Canteen and I have the choice between a bottle of RO water and city water I would have to choose the bottled RO water because I don't know if the plastic has leached BPAs into the water yet. However, I do know that the city water has government added chlorine and fluoride and that those are toxic to the body.

Good luck on your journalistic quest and remember that a circle can have as many angles as you care to investigate. ;-)

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