Berkeley scientist questions safety of bottled water

water13A review of  “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water”, by Peter H. Gleick, who co-founded the Pacific Institute in Oakland in 1987.

Put down that bottle of water, please, take a deep breath, and listen up. It’ll only take a few minutes, and when I’m done, you may never pick up a bottle of water again.

“Bottled water? This is a problem?” Yes, to Berkeley scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder and president of the world-renowned Pacific Institute, “bottled water is a symptom of a larger set of issues: the long-term decay of our public water systems, inequitable access to safe water around the world, our susceptibility to advertising and marketing, and a society trained from birth to buy, consume, and throw away. . . Suburban shoppers in America lug cases of plastic water bottle from the grocery store back to homes supplied with unlimited piped potable water in a sad and unintentional parody of the labor of girls and women in Africa, who spend countless backbreaking hours carrying containers of filthy water from distant contaminated sources to homes with no water at all.”

Bottling water on a large scale is a relatively new phenomenon. “In the late 1970s,” Gleick writes, “around 350 million gallons of bottled water were sold in the United States — almost entirely sparkling mineral water and large bottles to supply office water coolers. . . In 2008, nearly 9 billion [author’s emphasis] gallons of bottled water were packaged and sold in the United States and five times this amount was sold around the world.” That’s a 25-fold increase in three decades, and “Americans now drink more bottled water than milk or beer.” (Betcha didn’t know that, did you? I sure didn’t!) Now, “data on beverage consumption reveals that on average, each of us is actually drinking around 36 gallons per year less tap water.”

Gleick notes that “when we do actually look, we find evidence that there are potentially serious quality problems with bottled water. . . [However], [t]he system for testing and monitoring the quality of bottled water is so flawed that we simply have no comprehensive assessment of actual bottled water quality.”


So, why hasn’t somebody done something about this? It turns out that the FDA is the culprit. Bottled water falls within the FDA’s purview. Gleick cites a study by the Government Accountability Office to the effect that “while the FDA does very few actual inspections of water bottlers, the few they conducted between 2000 and 2008 found problems a remarkable 35 percent of the time. Even this warning sign led to ‘little enforcement action.’”

OK, maybe you feel bottled water tastes better than water from the tap. But you’re probably fooling yourself. As Gleick reports, “test after test shows the same things: people think they don’t like tap water, but they do. Or they think they can distinguish the taste of their favorite bottled water, but they can’t.” Just check out “bottled water taste test” on YouTube, if you don’t believe this.

Here, then, are the Top Ten Reasons Not to Drink Bottled Water:

Continue reading on Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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