Bottled Water – Healthy or a con job?

For some reason, water appears to draw a lot of woo these days. The prime example is of course the concept of bottled water. Despite having the stuff on tap, we now have a thriving industry worth about $60 Billion per year; we are awash with brands that promise us both spring water and also purified healthier tap water. In fact, this entire industry is described as  the great con of the century here where it says within a UK Independent newspaper report …

Bottled water is “one of the greatest cons of the 20th century”, due to it being “vastly overpriced” with little to “differentiate it from tap water” according to water companies.

Announcing the results of a review of the multi-million pound bottled water industry, Pamela Taylor, chief executive of the Water Companies Association (WCA), said yesterday that bottled water was “marketing’s answer to the emperor’s new clothes”. David Alexander, chairman of the WCA’s technical committee, said that while a litre of tap water cost on average 0.07p, a litre of bottled water costs 50p. “That’s the same sort of price differential which exists between a Ford Escort car and a light aircraft,” he said.

So why do we buy bottled water? One claim is that it is a healthier purer more natural option, but is this true?

Apparently not, according to a 1999 NRDC study (click here), they studied thousands of samples over four years and came to the following conclusions…

  • There is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap
  • An estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle — sometimes further treated, sometimes not
  • The quality of some brands was spotty, and such products may pose a health risk
  • About 22 percent of the brands tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. If consumed over a long period of time, some of these contaminants could cause cancer or other health problems.

The next obvious question to ponder over is to think about fluoride. Some would have you believe that this is a poisonous industrial waste. Well, we have been treating tap water with this since the 50’s to prevent tooth decay, so it is indeed in there. The fact is that it really does work, it has been proven, so if you stick to bottled water you might be increasing your risk of tooth decay. However, what about the health claim? Well, its controversial, but so far no health risk has been proven, and you need to remember, we have all been consuming it since the 50s. A major Australian study found no clear association between fluoridation and cancer or deaths due to cancer, both for cancer in general and also specifically for bone cancer and osteosarcoma, and other adverse effects lack sufficient evidence to reach a confident conclusion. For a far more detailed discussion of the topic, you can check out Wikipedia here.

Is this is? No, not at all. Just to illustrate how deep into woo we can get, let me finish off by telling you about “Real water”. Now thats an interesting brand name, it implies everything else is “fake” water. The company that makes this is Nevada-based Affinity Lifestyles, and they claim that tap water has been damaged. How? During its journey through various pipes, filters and other treatment systems, normal water is “stripped of its electrons”, causing the molecules to “clump”, which prevents them from hydrating our cells — (stripping the electrons!! ooh, so its a new form of matter then?) — and so the stuff they will flog you has had hundreds of millions of free electrons” added to “unclump” the water. For more details on this, you can read Rebecca Hill’s Guardian takedown of it all here, or if you are game for a laugh, then the Real Water website is here.

Sigh!, we all know a lot of this, and I am no exception, yet I still (occasionally) buy bottled water myself … Why? Well, I have a couple of reasons, if on the road, it is a healthier option than soda, and I’m too dam lazy to bottle my own. It is also handy to keep some chilled in a bottle for a hot day, and once again I’m simply too lazy to bottle my own. Now, I’m curious, do you also buy bottled water, and if so, are your reasons the same as mine, or do you have some other reason:

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