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Chemical Contaminants: Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Do you like to drink bottled water? Do you perceive bottled water to be cleaner or safer than ordinary tap water?

Marketing like this gives the consumer the perception of freshness and purity.

Marketing like this gives the consumer the perception of freshness and purity.

The bottled water industry has exploded in recent years, becoming the second largest beverage commodity behind soft drinks. The industry’s boom to a $12 billion/year business has been fueled by the fancy advertisements and marketing gimmicks of some of the largest (and richest!) food and beverage corporations in the world, like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. For example, marketers have learned that packaging water in a clear container gives the water a fresher, cleaner appearance, while deceptive logos like Aquafina’s white mountains give the added perception of purity. But is bottled water really fresher and cleaner than tap water? Is the exorbitant price tag of bottled water vs. tap water really worth it? To the millions of Americans who drink bottled water, whether in large, gallon jugs or smaller, individual sport bottles, bottle water is certainly believed to be better. But how much of this is hype and clever marketing, and how much of it is based upon fact? And what happens to all of the millions of plastic containers that go directly into the trash when emptied?

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites out there regarding the purity of bottled water vs. tap water. The overwhelming results from various studies are astonishing. Scientists and researchers at the Environmental Working Group have released their findings of samplings and testings performed on ten major bottled water brands. They found that every one of them tested positive for chemical contaminants – 38 total chemicals from the lot, for an average of 8 chemicals per sample. Water samples from Sam’s Choice and Acadia brands actually had chemical contaminants higher than the legal thresholds permissible in public drinking (tap) water. In addition, Sam’s Choice and Giant’s store brands both “bore the chemical signature of standard municipal water treatment — a cocktail of chlorine disinfection byproducts, and for Giant water, even fluoride.” These disinfection products, known as trihalomethanes, have been linked to cancer and reproductive disorders, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The samples revealed other common tap water contaminants, including “caffeine and pharmaceuticals ([such as] Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants”. Many of these chemicals are known to cause a variety of health problems in humans and pose a greater risk to the environment.

So what does this all mean?

Unlike local municipal water supplies that are regulated under federal and state laws, companies that produce bottled water do not have to disclose the results of contaminant testings on their water. The bottled water industry is largely unregulated, so consumer confidence in the product rests almost solely upon perception generated from marketing and brand name recognition. In short, if you drink bottled water, you do not know what you are getting.

Environmental Impact

Plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a growing, floating body of trash (80% of which is plastic) that has accumulated off the coast of the United States.

The trash accumulates in the North Pacific Gyre an area about ten million square miles in size. There are actually two “garbage patches”: one off the coast of Japan, and another between the West Coast and Hawaii. The patch near Hawaii is roughly the size of Texas.

Click above picture for animation.

Click above picture for animation.

This swirling, churning vortex of vinyl and plastic is growing every day and has detrimental effects on sea wildlife, coastlines and much more. Need I mention that plastics are made from largely non-biodegradable chemicals that leech harmful toxins into the environment?!

Do yourself a favor. Do the environment a favor. Screw the water companies that charge an arm and a leg for bottled water that is just processed tap water at a premium. Invest in a water filtration unit like the Berkey Water filter today.

Do I sound like a commercial? Good! We use a Berkey and I have to tell you: it works, and it is easy, fast and far less expensive than buying bottled water! This way we don’t have to drink nasty tap water, either, and we can remove the fluoride that many municipal water companies add to their water even though that practice has been banned in other areas of the world.

The Berkey Light (C) filtration unit

The Berkey Light © filtration unit

Do you buy bottled water in large gallon jugs? The Berkey Light, at $209, will pay for itself in less than a year! It filters up to 4 gallons per hour and the filters last for 4,000 gallons or one year, whichever comes first – and only cost $99 per pair. If you don’t like plastic, they have a stainless unit available for not much more. (For added fluoride and arsenic removal, you can get the $49 add on filters, which slows the filtration by about 15%; these filters last 6 months).

That means that you can enjoy 11 gallons of purified water per day for an entire year, for less than $100 (cost of filters alone)!! At supermarket rates of $.89 per gallon for water, using only two gallons a day, the cost is $650!! That’s a savings of over $500 per year, for nearly 3 times the amount of purified water!

The Berkey Water filter systems filter out: chlorine (taste & odor), color impurities, pathenogenic bacteria, cysts and parasites, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (benzene, MTBE, xylene, etc.), nitrates & nitrites, foul tastes & odors (rust & sulfur), trihalomethanes and MUCH more. The filters are so powerful that you can actually take untreated water from lakes and streams and pour it directly into the system! In fact, during our vacation to the Colorado wilderness this summer, we took our Berkey and filtered whatever water we could procure – and it was delicious. Moreover, we didn’t have to worry about bacteria or parasites like Giardia.

We use filtered water for everything now – the animals, the plants, for cooking, for ironing … When you consider that tap water today has added fluoride, excessive chlorine, prescription drugs and much more, this is the healthiest choice!

For those interested in learning more about the advantages of owning a Berkey filtration unit, here’s the informational brochure for the Berkey Light (*.PDF format).

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2008 in Food, Health & Wellness, Informational

 

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That Chemical Cocktail is Killing You: More on Bisphenol-A

A health-conscious consumer has a difficult time avoiding the ever-growing chemical cocktail of food additives and preservatives these days. One particular chemical, Bisphenol-A (or BPA, for short), has been getting quite a lot of bad press lately.

BPA is a synthesized organic compound (far different from the “organic” label you find on certain foods), which has been “suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930’s”, but has only recently gained the attention from healthy-food advocates, scientists and medical doctors that it deserves. It is synthesized from acetone (the main ingredient in nail polish remover and paint thinner) and phenol (a known antiseptic also found in Chloraseptic, whose scent is also known as the “hospital smell”), and is used in the production of certain plastics, especially polycarbonate plastics, as well as water bottles, baby bottles, medical supplies, lenses and as a plastic lining in many canned goods.

Bayer, DOW and G.E. are some of the biggest producers of BPA, producing most of the United States’ one million tons of BPA in 2004.

Bisphenol-A has been shown to have negative health effects, acting as an endocrine disruptor and hormone mimicker. Because BPA can mimic hormones such as estrogen at a very low dose, scientists are worried about the bioaccumulative and extended exposure effects of this chemical on developing adolescents. Already, some studies are drawing links between BPA and breast cancer, obesity, “fetal and infant brain development and activity”, decline in testosterone, and increase in prostate size and cancer.

A study performed by the Center for Disease Control, between 1988 and 1994, found BPA in 95% of the urine samples it tested from adults. Another study in 2003 and 2004 confirmed those results, finding BPA in 93% of the samples taken from adults and children. Studies have also shown that BPA can cross the placenta and become concentrated in the developing fetus.

Given the rise in prevalence of prostate and breast cancer, as well as behavioral and developmental issues in children in recent years, it seems prudent to call for a moratorium in the use of this chemical until more is learned regarding its safety.

In the meantime, health advocates suggest limiting your exposure to all plastics, canned soft drinks, and canned tomatoes. In my household, we own a water filtration unit to avoid purchasing bottled water, and we store the water in reused one-gallon glass apple juice jugs. We never heat foods up in plastic, and we do not ever use a microwave. We also avoid soft drinks, canned beer, and buy jarred tomatoes when available. In addition, we only rarely eat out (you never know what foods or additives restaurants use) and instead cook fresh, wholesome, organic meals at home. Finally, we changed all of our cleaning products and personal hygiene products to further reduce the chemical cocktail we are exposed to.

Water bottles like those above often leach BPA

Water bottles like these above often leach Bisphenol-A, an estrogen mimicking chemical responsible for a variety of negative health effects.

Anxieties in a Bottle (or a Can)

U.S. News & World Report, Deborah Kotz
Published September 29, 200

When it comes to household health risks, baby bottles made of hard plastic may already be on your radar screen. But how about canned tomatoes and soft drinks? These, too, contain the worrisome chemical bisphenol A–it’s found in the substance that coats the inner surfaces of metal cans. And some adults, like infants, may be in harm’s way. A landmark study of more than 1,400 adults, published in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, found that those with the most BPA in their urine had nearly three times the risk of heart disease and more than twice the risk of diabetes as those who had the lowest levels. “Even those with the highest BPA levels still had levels way below the currently established ‘safe’ level,” says study coauthor David Melzer of the University of Exeter in England.

While the report doesn’t prove that BPA causes these diseases, it adds strength to previous laboratory findings: One study found that elevated BPA levels trigger an excessive release of insulin in mice, enough to lead to prediabetes. Another, on human fat cells, found that BPA suppresses the release of a heart-protective hormone.

Babies are still thought to be more at risk than adults. Through bottles and formula, they get more BPA exposure on a per-pound basis, says Sarah Janssen, a physician and science fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council. They also can’t metabolize the chemical as quickly, so it accumulates in their bodies, which may pose problems for fragile developing organ systems. The government’s National Toxicology Program recently concluded that there’s enough evidence to express “some concern” over BPA’s detrimental effects on a child’s brain and reproductive organs.

Still in use. So why is BPA still allowed in food packaging? While consumer groups have issued calls to ban it, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to do so, declaring last month that “products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels … are below those that may cause health effects.” This decision astounded environmental health activists who accused the FDA of relying on only two studies, both funded by plastic manufacturers, out of more than 700 that have been published.

There’s talk in Congress of overriding the FDA policy by passing laws to restrict the use of BPA. Industry representatives, however, argue this isn’t the solution: “Acidic foods will corrode the metal of cans, so you have to have a coating in there,” says Steven Hentges, a chemist and BPA expert with the American Chemistry Council, a trade group. “Finding an alternative liner that works as well and is safer would not be easy.”

Some companies, though, have already responded to consumer demand. Born Free makes plastic, BPA-free baby bottles, CamelBak recently switched over its water bottles, and Eden Foods cans its beans with a plant-based liner. People can also substitute beverages, soups, and vegetables packaged in glass or cardboard containers for those packed in cans, says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. She also recommends using powdered infant formula instead of ready-to-serve liquid. A recent report from EWG found that the former contains less BPA.

Related Post:

The Body Burden: Toxic Chemicals in our Bodies

Also See:

The Environmental Working Group – www.ewg.org

Scientific American – Plastic (Not) Fantastic: Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2008 in Health & Wellness

 

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