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Bottled Water: Liquid Haute Couture
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you really know what you are drinking every time you open some bottled water? Read on and find out, if you dare.

"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink" . . . Samuel Coleridge, The Ancient Mariner Do you Evian? Do you… Perrier, Poland Spring, Deer Park or Aquafina? Whatever your choice among these best selling brands of bottled water, do you really know what you are drinking? In a recent four year study, The National Resources Defense Council concluded that bottled water sold in The United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water and that regulations are inadequate to assure consumers or either purity or safety. This seems ludicrous when one considers that sales have exploded in recent years due to a public perception of purity, floating glaciers and nubile nymphs soaring over crystal clear springs. About one fourth of bottled water is actually bottled tap water and consumers spend from two hundred and forty to over ten thousand times more per gallon for bottled tap water than they do for tap water! Is bottled water pure drink, pure P.T. Barnum hype or simply liquid high fashion for the suckers among us who are born every minute?

Unlike the tenets put forth by The Declaration of Independence, not all bottled water is created equally. The truth can be found on the self evident label. Marketing is at best misleading, implying the water comes from pristine sources when in fact it does not. Food And Drug Administration rules allow bottlers to use the term spring water even though it may have been treated with chemicals and brought to the surface using a pumped well. In Europe, all bottled mineral waters come from natural springs, which is defined as water which flows naturally to the surface. In America, waters labeled spring water may come from a spring or from a bore hole adjacent to a spring. Some famous American spring waters include Mountain Valley in Arkansas, Belmont Springs in Massachusettes, Saratoga in New York and Poland Spring in Maine. Artesian Spring Water also comes from underground but the earth’s surface must be tapped in order to reach it. Kentwood Springs of Louisiana is a well known artesian water.

But what is bottled water and what does it want from me? It comes in two styles: sparkling and still. (Does the still one run deep as the old proverb claims? Only the bottler knows for sure.) There are many variations of these two styles which undergo different processes and thereby retain different characteristics. Sparkling or carbonated water is usually considered a beverage of refreshment, while still (not sparkling) is consumed as drinking water.

Who is drinking all this bottled water and why? Consumer research suggests that people of different age groups and occupations indulge in bottled water. The large majority, however, tend to be young singles and couples between the ages of fourteen and thirty-five. The bottled variety is consistantly refreshing. Water is essential for the functioning of almost all the body’s living cells and our need for it remains the same regardless of the seasons or the weather. Ninety-five percent of human blood is water and seventy-five percent of the human brain! Mind-boggling. ( I wonder if bottled water can affect IQ tests?)

The truth about bottled water is unsettling to say the least. According to Dr. Andrew Weil in his 1997 book, Eight Weeks To Optimum Health, "bottled water is a temporary solution at best. Cleanliness," he claims, "is the biggest concern because bacteria can breed quickly in unchlorinated water." Perhaps his most disturbing revelation concerns a recent check of twenty-five bottling plants in which serious problems with sanitation were found at each one! According to Mel Freidman of Parents’ Magazine, "you can’t even count on waters that are labelled ‘purified’ to be sterile enough for mixing baby formula."

Are we all walking a high fashion, "in crowd" tightrope with no safety net? Speaking for myself, I have never given labels or regulations a thought when stocking up on bottled water which I have learned to prefer over my own very bland tap water. It is ironic to learn that far less regulation has been imposed on bottled water than municipal drinking water and that the bottled variety is tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E-Coli or fecal coliform (which indicate contamination with fecal matter). This is in strict contradiction to tap water regulations, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria.

What’s a health conscious, contemporary, socially aware consumer to do? With the advent of more widespread leisure and travel for business and pleasure, consumers are increasingly turning to the convenience of bottled water for refreshment. Water makes a great contribution to over-all hydration. It is fat free and a great thirst quencher. But…is it…safe?

The cosmic view on water poses still other puzzling issues. Ninety-seven percent of all the water on our planet is in the oceans. The Atlantic, Pacific, Artic, Antarctic and Indian Oceans cover about three-quarters of the earth’s surface with salt water that can only be utilized if processed by desalinization. Over two percent of that is polluted or part of the ice cap, leaving less than one percent which is actually available for human use. In the home, three quarters of all water used is in the bathroom. I am as guilty as the next person of letting water run in the sink while brushing my teeth, but I had no idea that I was increasing my daily usage by up to twenty gallons! Most toilets use a minimum of three and one-half gallons per flush. It seems that our personal hygiene must go through a new and different ringer, and I for one will look at rainstorms and monsoons with a new respect in the future.

But how do we solve the problem? Those cute little sports bottles look so chic sticking out of belts and back pockets and designer tote-bags. Flip-top caps make it all so easy to drink as much or more water than the Jones’. Has there been any survey made about those who put plain tap water in those containers and pretend to be among the elite? What should we do with these people if we find them? Tell them they are low class and just too passé for serious consideration? Not only that. We are capable of adding our own bacteria. We don’t need any help from imposters! Maybe P.T. Barnum was right after all. If he were alive today, he would probably get on the bandwagon and find a way to bottle air as well. Who knows what bottled air could do for our minds and spirits? Do you think it could prevent another sucker among us from being born ever minute? I doubt it.

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2004