Bottled “Water”?

A recent article on Yahoo!’s Green page caught my attention when it claimed that another study found that bottled water also contains contaminants. Bottled water has been a hot topic of conversation lately – whether it be about recycling the bottles or the actual product behind the plastic. Although I’m pretty sick of this topic and have resorted to filtering water myself (via Brita/Pur products) I continually find myself interested in any new “findings” in the bottled water world. Perhaps it is the little analytical chemist inside me waiting for an opportunity jump on this never ending bandwagon.

The research included 10 different brands that were tested for purity and two came up with unsatisfactory contamination levels (which were never defined)- Wal*Mart’s brand and Giant Food’s brand.

The study’s lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said.

This statement includes the results of all 10 brands of bottled water, however the rest of the article only focuses on the findings in Wal*Mart and Giant Food claiming that the levels in the other brands were not high enough to warrant further testing- and the article all together fails to mention what the other 8 brands studied were! Frankly, if all of these things are showing up in my water – which is supposed to be pure – I think even 1 ppb warrants more tests. And although they say these levels are comparable to the water we’re getting out of our taps, shouldn’t this be saying something about our filtration systems?  Perhaps we shouldn’t just be focusing on bottled water. (Germaphobe – I know) I suppose its the little analytical chemist in me again screaming out for numbers and quantities – this article is lacking in pertinent information! In the end, Wal*Mart basically claimed they were shocked because none of their tests revealed this same information. It made me think of Instrumental Lab – do I see a possible scenario in the works?

So what do you guys think… stay away from bottled water or consider the possibility that the quantities of contaminants are too small to kill anyone?

Comments (11) Add yours ↓
  1. skassel

    I’d like to see responsible reporting! I particularly like the ‘other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles’ quote. Now that’s good science! It does sound like a good ACHEM project too. How would you have reported the results?

    15 October 2008
  2. skassel

    I hope you don’t mind that I added a couple of categories to your post. Please change them as you see fit.

    15 October 2008
  3. nharmuth

    oh yeah sorry I meant to do that… my mom was yelling at me to eat dinner but I think those fit well

    15 October 2008
  4. skassel

    Moms are great like that! One other thing, I would link the image you use to the original source.

    15 October 2008
  5. nharmuth

    Here’s another article about the same research

    15 October 2008
  6. skassel

    That’s a little better. It would be good to work it into your post. Have you found anything about EWG (the group mentioned in the article)? And, how are you embedding links in your comments?

    15 October 2008
  7. pokane

    I used to be a bottled water freak, but mainly for the taste and not because i thought it was any healthier. A few months ago I switched to a brita pitcher and a BPA free water bottle. I felt bad with all the plastic bottles I was going through.

    15 October 2008
  8. jaxtell

    I’m also a little disappointed with the lack of responsibility in reporting this issue. In addition to not mentioning the “satisfactory” levels of chemical concentrations in water and all 10 brands that were tested, I feel the use of the term “the radioactive element strontium” is slightly misleading and represents an unreasonable bias towards the overall purpose of the article. 14-C could be referred to as “the radioactive element carbon,” but the negative connotation would be pretty unnecessary. Two of the many radioactive isotopes of strontium, 89-Sr and 90-Sr, have many beneficial applications, one of which is radiotherapy for certain cancers. While negative effects from 90-Sr have been reported, I think the one referring to strontium could have been a little bit more specific.

    In my own opinion on the bottled water issue, I drink bottled water only as a matter of convenience. I much prefer well water or well-filtered water, but until someone proves that death is a possible result of drinking bottled water, I’m not really that concerned.

    17 October 2008
  9. pweibel

    I think it’s basically fearmongering, the same reason that the anti-smoking ad in Farley Gym says that cigarette smoke contains Polonium 210… (not saying I’m pro smoking, just same reasoning) Talk about things people know nothing about and they’ll believe you

    19 October 2008
  10. awood

    My internship this summer was at a water research center and one of our main projects was on the drinking water supply for New York City (i.e. tap water). The main concern in that project was low dose pharmaceutical contaminants which essentially come from poor waste water treatment which is dumped into our drinking water. It’s not necessarily about killing you in that case; it is about the effects of these drugs on the fish, bacteria and other organisms which are now living in, for example, an estrogen rich environment. And also, what are the long term effects on the people who are drinking low dose chemicals everyday. So I think there is a LOT at stake in this water discussion (even if this particular article did not do the issue justice).

    20 October 2008
  11. jsteves

    I think I heard about that estrogen issue in fish too! I haven’t followed the issue of water contamination very carefully, but I’ve read a couple of articles in C&EN that seem to indicate that pharmaceutical pollution is a potential problem (and I think Courtney Shedden did a poster presentation on pharmaceutical contamination a few years ago). As for this article about Wal-Mart and Giant, it definitely seems to be aimed at making people afraid of drinking bottled water (and it probably will change some people’s minds too!) but lacks a solid argument. I just have to chuckle at the reference to “bacteria” as one of the 38 chemicals. I also use a brita pitcher and try to avoid using bottled water because I want to conserve plastic. Frankly though, I’m just happy I can get drinkable water whenever I need it.

    30 October 2008

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