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Bottled Water Wars

Bottling up the world`s supply of Water - The Dangers and Issues Involving Bottled Water
Special Report By Joshua Ortega,

CLEAN unpolluted, affordable water. There is nothing more important in the world - but it`s in serious danger.

From health and environmental concerns to the very question of who should control the Earth`s water supply, the issue can be distilled into a simple, opening proposition: tap, or bottled water?

As Americans, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where drinkable tap water is a reality, making bottled water a "luxury" rather than a necessity.

However, there is a perception among many people that bottled water is somehow more healthy or pure than water from their tap. This is simply an illusion of marketing.

A four-year study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), released in 1999, found that one-fifth of the sampled bottled waters contained known neurotoxins and carcinogens such as styrene, toluene and xylene. Another NRDC study found that, out of 103 brands of bottled water, one-third contained traces of arsenic and E. coli. This means that out of a sample of 1,000 bottles sold in the U.S., at least 300 would have some level of chemical contamination.

In 1990, the FDA made Perrier drop the words "Naturally Sparkling" from its label since investigators had discovered that Perrier artificially carbonated its water after taking it out of the ground. Perrier, once the most popular US brand was also later forced to announce a world wide recall on the bottled water when unsafe levels of Benzene were found.

A Suffolk County Study in the USA tested 88 bottled waters and what they found was horrifying. It was this study which discovered the cancer agent, benzene, in Perrier and caused it to be withdrawn, but they also found: Freon, kerosene, toluene, trichloroethylene, and xylene in a number of other bottled waters.

There is no dispute on the cancer-causing potential of benzene. "Benzene is carcinogenic to humans and no safe level of exposure can be recommended," the World Health Organization has maintained. Benzene causes leukemia and can also cross the placenta affecting the fetus.

The NRDC in the USA reported that one-third of bottled water products they tested were found to violate an enforceable state standard or exceed microbiological purity guidelines, or both, in at least one sample.

Despite popular misperceptions (spawned primarily by advertising), bottled water is not regulated as strictly as tap water. In fact, unlike tap water, regulations allow bottled water to contain some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform and don`t require disinfection for cryptosporidium or Guardia.

Sometimes bottled water is tap water: In spite of the springs, mountains, and other bucolic scenes depicted on labels, some bottled water is nothing more than tap water, NRDC and Consumer Reports have found. The Aquafina brand, for example, is drawn from the municipal water supplies of Detroit, Fresno, and other cities. Coke and Pepsi - the main producers of bottled water (under different brand names) also use tap, not spring water.

Another American team in Pennsylvania analyzed 37 brands, 28 of them from Europe, for: alkalinity, aluminum, barium, beryllium, boron, cadmium, calcium, chloride, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluoride, iron, lead, lithium, magnesium, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, nitrate, pH, phosphate, potassium, silver, sodium, specific conductance, sulfate, tin, vanadium and zinc. Twenty-four of the 37 did not comply with drinking water standards in the USA. With the exception of Mountain Valley, a United States water, every one of them failed to pass EEC or WHO limits on at least one count.

But how can bottled water be contaminated and still be sold in the U.S.? The answer is simple.

Bottled water is one of the world`s least-regulated industries, and is usually held to less-stringent standards than tap water. Since tap water is a public resource, extensive documentation on its quality and content must be made available to the consumer. There is no such accountability for bottled water, which is regulated more like a soft drink than a public resource.

Bottled water gives the pre-packaged impression of safety - if it`s in a bottle, it must be safe and clean.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as evidenced by the worldwide recall of Perrier, in which the bottled water was found to have benzene, a poison that has produced cancer in lab animals.

When you factor in the devastating environmental costs associated with bottling a public, natural resource, the difference between bottled and tap becomes even clearer.

The most common plastic used in water bottle manufacturing is PET (polyethylene terephthalate), an environmentally unfriendly substance that actually requires 17.5 kilograms of water to produce only 1 kilogram of PET. In fact, more water is used to make PET bottles than is actually put into them.

The production of the plastic also produces numerous byproducts that are extremely harmful to the environment. The Container Recycling Institute reported that 14 billion water bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2002, yet only 10 percent of these bottles were recycled - 90 percent ended up in the trash. That`s an extra 12.6 billion plastic bottles for the landfills; bottles that contained water that was no more - and often less - healthy than tap water.

Granted, there are many places in the world where bottled water is the only source of drinkable water, and thus it becomes much more than a luxury item. However, bottled water is ultimately a Band-Aid solution. Rather than actually solving the problem - making public water clean, affordable and environmentally friendly - the citizens of these countries are forced to pay exorbitant prices for water that comes in an environmentally unfriendly delivery system.

Whether in America or less-developed countries, the evidence is as clear as the plastic it`s sold in - bottled water, compared to good tap water, is not worth the costs, whether they be environmental, health-related or economic.

But bottled water is not the only danger to clean, affordable tap water - it is simply one part of a much larger issue.

Fortune magazine has touted water as the "best investment sector for the century." The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said that "water is the last infrastructure frontier for private investors." The Toronto Globe and Mail has stated that "water is fast becoming a globalized corporate industry." This news should send shivers down the spine of any concerned American.

Currently, the privatized water market is led by two French multinational corporations, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux (builders of the Suez Canal) and Veolia Environment, though many other multinationals are also now in the market, including American companies such as General Electric and Bechtel.

In the United States, recent laws have paved the way for a larger private-sector presence in America`s water supply. Whereas small or local public-sector operators, such as city or county utility companies, used to control the market, now the big players of world business are getting involved.

For example, Veolia (formerly owned by Vivendi) bought U.S. Filter Corporation for $6 billion, and it also owns a large portion of Air and Water Technologies. Suez once purchased two of the largest producers of water-treatment chemicals, Calgon and Nalco, and also owns United Water Resources. So much fuss was made about France`s opposition to the war in Iraq, yet there was little or no public outcry over the selling of U.S. water companies to foreign interests.

Many people will argue that the privatization of water will not affect U.S. consumers, but the facts unfortunately say otherwise. When the French privatized their water services, customer rates went up 150 percent within a few years. In Britain, water corporations have had a terrible track record. In an eight-year period, from 1989 to 1997, four large corporations, including Wessex (a former subsidiary of Enron), were prosecuted 128 times for various infractions.

One of the main problems with water privatization is that the public no longer has the right to access information or data about water quality and standards. In 1998, the water supply of Sydney, Australia, currently controlled by Suez, was contaminated with cryptosordium and Guardia, yet the public had not been informed when the parasites were first discovered.

When the government of Ontario, Canada, deregulated its water-protection infrastructure and privatized water-testing labs, the results were disastrous for many communities. In the small Canadian town of Walkerton, seven people died and more than 200 were sickened from drinking E. coli-contaminated water in 2000.

The situation is even worse in Third World nations, where large financial institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank are actively promoting water privatization as a solution to the world`s water problems. In many instances, the privatization of a nation`s water supply is a requirement for debt relief or a loan. Out of 40 IMF loans that were granted in 2000, at least 12 were contingent upon water privatization.

The danger here is that when anything is privatized, it is then subject to pricing as decided by the open market. Many have argued that water is a basic human right, and if this is the case, as with all human rights, it should never be sold on the open market to the highest bidder. Otherwise, water will be subject to the same whims of business as any other commodity.

An energy crisis was bad enough - just imagine if the Enron scenario happened with water. In the words of a former director of Suez, "We are here to make money. Sooner or later the company that invests recoups its investment, which means the customer has to pay for it." These are not the people you want to be in control of your water.

Water corporations exist to make profits - not to preserve water`s quality or affordability. Let`s say they own all of the world`s water, and then start selling it back to you in little plastic bottles. When the prices and the environmental costs of bottled water get too high, you may find yourself going to war over your water.

The wars of the next century will be about water."

This is a quote from Ismail Serageldin, former vice president of the World Bank, in 1999. This is the same World Bank that encourages the privatization of the world`s water supply. The same World Bank whose members have financial ties to multinational corporations such as General Electric and Enron.

These same multinational corporations also have stakes in the biggest industry of them all - defense and warfare. Indeed, it is a strange day when the same corporation that makes bombs and missiles also owns your water, an "industry" that putatively will be the major focus of this century`s wars.

Some may argue that these companies are an essential part of national defense, and thus are protecting national interests by the strategic acquisition of the world`s major water supplies. However, once a company owns a water supply, it could be in its best financial interest to make the water scarce and hard to afford. Creating a problem, then marketing a solution, is a very profitable business practice - not to mention the additional profits to be gained from defending the supply in a war.

History is rife with conflicts over one party or another`s control of a limited resource.

Most people will agree that the driving economic force behind today`s wars is oil. A war over water would be a hundred times worse. Oil is vastly different. No one puts a gun to your head and forces you to drive. No one makes you fill your tank. Gas and oil are ultimately luxuries. Water, however, is a necessity. Taking away your water is the same thing as putting a gun to your head. This is an unacceptable proposition.

If there is one cause in the whole world that crosses all social, national, racial and economic lines, it`s water. This is the most important issue we will face in our lifetime.

Thankfully, there are solutions to the problem. The simplest way to start making a difference is to choose tap over bottled water. If the taste of your local water is unappealing, buy a filter for your tap, (Ed: an alkaline water ionizer for clean AND healthy water) or invest the money you would spend on bottled water into public infrastructure or watershed protection. Nothing speaks louder than where you spend your dollar. Bottled water will only be produced if there is a demand for it.

If you want to do more than that, then tell your representatives that you will not accept the selling of American water to foreign, multinational or corporate interests. Support public-sector projects and programs that encourage and create long-term, sustainable water solutions. Get involved with groups such as The Blue Planet Project (, which is actively finding ways to solve the world`s looming water crisis.

And above all else, remember that it`s not too late. Clean, affordable water is still a reality in this country. It is our patriotic duty as Americans to ensure that it stays that way.


By Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 16, 2008

A controversial, estrogen-like chemical in plastic could be harming the development of children`s brains and reproductive organs, a federal health agency concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that there was "some concern" that fetuses, babies and children were in danger because bisphenol A, or BPA, harmed animals at low levels found in nearly all human bodies.

An ingredient of polycarbonate plastic, BPA is one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industry today. It can seep from hard plastic beverage containers such as baby bottles, as well as from liners in cans containing food and infant formula.

The federal institute is the first government agency in the U.S. to conclude that low levels of BPA could be harming humans. Its findings will be used to help regulators at federal and state environmental agencies to develop policies governing its use.

The draft report followed an 18-month review that was fraught with allegations of bias, heated disputes among scientists and the firing of a consulting company with financial ties to the chemical industry.

Some scientists suspect that exposure early in life disrupts hormones and alters genes, programming a fetus or child for breast or prostate cancer, premature female puberty, attention deficit disorders and other reproductive or neurological disorders.

In its new report, the National Toxicology Program, which reviewed about 500 laboratory animal experiments, concluded that there was "some concern" that fetuses, babies and children were at risk from BPA. It rated as "negligible" the concern for adults.

When animal fetuses or newborns are exposed, BPA "can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland and the age at which females attain puberty," the agency`s draft report says.

"These studies only provide limited evidence for adverse effects on development and more research is needed to better understand their implications for human health," it said. "However, because these effects in animals occur at bisphenol A exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed."

Plastics industry representatives stressed that the agency found "no serious or high-level concerns." They call the lab animal experiments inconclusive and flawed.

Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council`s polycarbonate/BPA group said the findings "provide reassurance that consumers can continue to use products made from bisphenol A."

The limited evidence for effects in laboratory animals at low doses primarily highlights opportunities for additional research to better understand whether these findings are of any significance to human health," he said.

In the key area of reproductive health, the agency reported more concern about the potential dangers to children than its advisory panel did.

The advisory panel in August found "minimal" concern about effects on the prostate and puberty after siding with the plastics industry and disqualifying many animal studies that showed effects. That drew criticism from scientists who conducted the research.

But in the new report, the National Toxicology Program overruled its panel, elevating its finding about human prostates and puberty to "some concern." It also for the first time expressed concern about effects on human mammary glands, which the panel had not addressed.

The findings "break new scientific ground" by validating the low-dose animal tests, said Anila Jacob, senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, an activist group. It "reflects a significant body of science showing that BPA may play a larger role than previously thought in a host of common health problems, including prostate cancer, breast cancer and early puberty," she said.

Frederick Vom Saal, a reproductive scientist at University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA, said the new report was "very, very much in line" with a consensus statement signed by 38 scientists last year that said the chemical could be harming babies` brains and reproductive tracts.

This is going to ripple around the world," vom Saal said. "The bottom line is there really is a convergence of opinion that is occurring."

Canada is expected soon to declare BPA a toxic substance, which would be followed by proposals to control its use. California and other states have considered but not adopted bans on BPA in products.

A year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that the government was basing its BPA decision on a summary of the science drafted by a private company, Sciences International, which had financial ties to more than 50 chemical companies and groups. The company was then fired. National Toxicology Program officials audited the report and found it unbiased, so it was used to reach its conclusions.

The National Toxicology Program will accept public comments on its draft report until May 23, and it will be reviewed by a new scientific panel in June.


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