ADVERTISEMENT

Bottled up: Data on contaminants in bottled water still lacking, government says

Babies on roller skates, breakdancing and weaving between bottles of water, impart an image of vitality and purity. At least that’s what Evian, a high-end producer of bottled water, would have you believe with its new hit advertisement. As the company’s worldwide director of brand, Michael Aidan, told MSNBC today, “In the majority of countries in recent years, our communication has been very fact-based. But consumers expect more from a big brand: emotion, dream.” 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the advocacy Environmental Working Group (EWG) would prefer they stick with the facts. 

Reports from the two groups landed in Congress yesterday, both questioning how bottled water, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, compares with tap water, regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Annual reports naming sources, treatments and contaminants, along with their health effects, are required of municipal water providers. Bottlers are currently not forced to do the same, despite many recalls of their products in recent years because of contamination.

Americans guzzled about 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water in 2008—about double what they drank a decade ago. Although sales have dipped a bit in the last year, likely from the recession and environmental concerns, consumers continue to plunk down the dollar or two for a bottle.

The EWG survey found that few bottled-water products disclose comprehensive information on their Web sites. “Instead, they simply make claims of purity and health benefits not backed by public data,” Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president for research, told the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations panel. Of the 188 brands they analyzed, only Ozarka Drinking Water and Penta Ultra-Purified Water listed the details required of tap water providers.

The GAO and EWG would like to change that. Although the FDA has been increasing its watch on the industry—new rules will soon require bottlers to eliminate E. coli from their products and report any test results that show serious health threats—they suggest the FDA also begin requiring companies to label their products with instructions for how consumers can find more information.

Letters from the panel are out now to 13 companies requesting source and testing information about their water, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, a small town in Australia banned bottled water altogether yesterday. Residents of Bundanoon, a town of about 2,500 people a couple hours south of Sydney, voted nearly unanimously to eliminate the source of monetary and environmental waste.

"We're hoping it will act as a catalyst to people's memories to remember the days when we did not have bottled water," Jon Dee, who campaigned for "Bundy on Tap," told the AP today. "What is 'Evian' spelled backwards? 'Naive.'"


Image by shrff14 via flickr

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X