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Buyer beware: What's in your bottled water?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

By Olga Naidenko, PhD and Nneka Leiba, MPH

If I want healthy, tasty, clean drinking water, and I want it today, tomorrow, and for the future, where do I turn? The bottled water industry has a ready-made answer - buy our bottled waters that come in hundreds of brands and with just as many claims that cover everything from unearthly purity to miraculous cures.

Shoppers spend their hard-earned money to purchase bottled water in part because they distrust the quality of their tap water. And while drinking pure water is a healthy choice, bottled water is not the answer. A new EWG study shows that bottled water is polluted with a range of contaminants, including many of the same chemical pollutants typical in municipal tap water supplies. Laboratory tests - conducted for EWG at one of the country's leading water quality laboratories - found that ten popular brands of bottled water, purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in nine states and the District of Columbia, contained 38 chemical pollutants altogether, with an average of 8 contaminants in each brand.

Two of ten brands tested, Walmart's and Giant's store brands, bore the chemical signature of standard municipal water treatment -- a cocktail of chlorine disinfection byproducts at concentrations that exceeded legal limits and industry-sponsored voluntary safety standards. Four brands were also contaminated with bacteria. These results show that consumers should have no confidence in the purity of the bottled water they buy. If the water at the source is contaminated, so will be the water in the bottle. And bottled water production itself can contribute additional chemical pollutants.