I used to buy soft drinks and beer just down the street from my house in Queens from a small distributor. It was a small warehouse operation, so I was supporting a local business, and the prices were better than the local supermarket or convenience store. What always bugged me was the fact that a six-pack of cola was $1.99, but a six-pack of bottled water was $2. It bugged me so much I did some comparison shopping, and sure enough, bottled water was more expensive at the wholesale level than those drinks that are water, plus sugar, flavoring and coloring. In other words, those ingredients had a negative economic value.
Then something else occurred to me. A great many people in the First World who drink bottled water are, forgive me, idiots. A little more research, and I have come to the conclusion that Americans are getting more and more idiotic. In 2000, Americans consumed 16.74 gallons of bottled water per capita. It has more than doubled since then. And by 2017, the figure will be 38.62 per capita.
Now, if you live in a place like Pensacola, Reno or Houston, I am going to give you a pass. Tests of your local tap water show unhealthy levels of several chemicals and minerals, and that does damn matter. Most of these places are well-downstream of mountain run-off, and the water has traveled a long way picking up stuff here and there as it makes its journey.
But for most Americans, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says, “In the short term, if you are an adult with no special health conditions, and you are not pregnant, then you can drink most cities’ tap water without having to worry.”
In my life, I have lived mostly in Denver and New York City, both of which have exceptional water quality. Denver Water notes, “Our water more than meets all regulatory mandates and never has violated any standard.” It should be good, as it is snow melt from the Rockies a short drive from the city.
Meanwhile, my current city government says, “New York City drinking water is world-renowned for its quality. Each day, more than 1 billion gallons of fresh, clean water is delivered from large upstate reservoirs — some more than 125 miles from the City — to the taps of nine million customers throughout New York state.”
Here are some ugly truths about bottled water:
“25 to 30 percent of it comes straight from municipal tap water systems, despite the pretty nature scenes on the bottles that imply otherwise. Some of that water goes through additional filtering, but some does not.
NRDC has researched bottled water extensively and has found that it is ‘subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water.'”
“Bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli
or fecal coliform, contrary to EPA tap water rules that prohibit any such contamination.”
“Similarly, NRDC found that there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike more stringent EPA rules regulating tap water. This leaves open
the possibility, says NRDC, that some bottled water may present similar health threats to those with weakened immune systems, the elderly and others they caution about drinking tap water.”
Then, there is the question of fluoride in the water. Natural spring water doesn’t have any, and by dropping tap water from your diet, you are running the risk of the kind of soft, brown teeth that British dentistry has tried to stamp out for decades.
Moreover, The Washington Post last week wrote, “As of 2006, it took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water, according to the Pacific Institute. In other words, before even including the energy required to produce the actual bottles — which is significant — bottled water was already three times as inefficient as its unpackaged alternative.” That is significant when you consider that California is in a drought so bad you can’t water your lawn.
According to the Earth Policy Institute, “it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to create the 50 billion plastic water bottles Americans use each year. (That’s enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars for a year.) Less than a quarter of those bottles are recycled. And these statistics don’t even account for the fuel used in transporting the water around the country and the world.”
Believe it or not, public drinking fountains are the solution. Ewwwww! I hear you bottle-water fans scream. Studies have shown there is virtually no risk from anything growing there, and remember: That’s water that has been tested and purified more than your bottled beverage.
And one last thing. You’re thirsty (need a drink), not dehydrated (need an IV drip).
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.