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Press Release: Is Vended Water Really Chemical Free?

OAKLAND, Dec. 10 - Glacier Water Services, the largest seller in California and the U.S. of filtered water from vending machines, claims its machines dispense chemical-free drinking water. But the first statewide tests of vended water for chemical contaminants found that one-third of Glacier machines sell water that fails state health standards, and two-thirds fail to live up to Glacier’s marketing claims.

In a report released today, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) say that buying water from a vending machine in California is like playing a slot machine: You can't be sure what will come out. "Considering the steep premium that vended water customers are paying for supposedly 'chemical-free' water, this is an outrageous fraud", said EWG analyst Renee Sharp, principal author of the report, available online at www.ewg.org.

ELF filed suit today in San Francisco Superior Court charging Glacier with unfair or fraudulent business practices under Section 17200 of the state Unfair Competition Law, which allows private citizens and groups to sue companies for consumer fraud.

"Vended water costs more than 100 times the price of tap water," said attorney James Wheaton, president of ELF. "A pregnant woman who buys vended water to protect her unborn baby from toxic chemicals should get what she pays for. The state health department knows vended water doesn't meet the standards set by law, but they're letting people get ripped off."

Glacier, based in San Diego County, operates more than 7,000 machines retail outlets statewide, and more than 14,000 vended water machines in 37 states nationwide. California is one of the few states where vended water - almost always ordinary tap water filtered as it passes through the machine - must be cleaner than tap water.

State law targets trihalomethanes (THMs), chlorination byproducts linked to increased risk of multiple types of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects. THMs in vended water must not exceed 10 parts per billion (ppb), the level at which studies show an association with low birth weight of babies whose mothers drank contaminated water during pregnancy.

EWG and ELF tested samples from 274 Glacier machines in nine urban counties, and more than one-third had THM levels above 10 ppb. About one in six had THM levels twice as high as the state standard. And more than two-thirds couldn't live up to Glacier's claim that its filters "typically remove 97 percent of all contaminants from the source water."

The lawsuit says Glacier and other companies must be held accountable to state standards and their own marketing claims. In the report, EWG and ELF called on the state Department of Health Services to establish an industry-financed program of mandatory unannounced inspections of water machines, take dirty machines out of service, and make sure customers know they're buying filtered tap water.

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View the Environmental Law Foundation's complaint at:
http://www.envirolaw.org/cases/vendbrief.htm