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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Put the bottle down, and run away

Larry Lack writes about The Bottled Water Madness, and a new book on the subject by Canada's Polaris Institute.
The bottled water industry is a prime example of why P.T. Barnum, not Adam Smith, should be anointed as capitalism's patron saint. Aside from its usefulness in remote areas during disasters and emergencies, bottled water is an entirely needless affectation. The fears about the safety of public water supplies that its purveyors play on are exaggerated nonsense. But the enormous global bottled water industry built on these false fears undercuts public water, disfigures landscapes and exposes trusting bottled water consumers to serious health risks.
Approximately one fourth of all bottled water and as much as 40 per cent of that sold in North America is simply municipal tap water run through filters and treated with minerals or other additives. The rest of the bottled water found in stores is pumped from groundwater aquifers many of which have been severely depleted by these water "takings."

Safety testing of bottled water is seldom required or done, but published studies indicate that heavy metals and other toxic chemicals as well as health threatening bacteria are found with surprising frequency in bottled water which, ironically, is marketed based on claims of "purity". Both chemical and bacterial contaminations tend to increase when water is stored in sealed bottles for long periods of time.
Bottled water is responsible for an enormous increase in world production of plastic bottles. Surging sales of bottled water coincided with and may help account for a 56 per cent increase in U.S. plastic resin manufacture in the U.S.A. between 1995 and 2001 (from 32 million tons to over 50 million tons annually). Consuming critical supplies of petroleum and natural gas, plastic bottle factories create and release toxic wastes, including benzine, xylene, and oxides of ethylene into the environment. Toxic and carcinogenic constituents of plastic bottles, such as the phthalates that are used to make some containers flexible, can contaminate their contents during transportation or storage.