Today’s Hot Topic? Bottled Water

A post by Anne JeffersonOn this hot, hot day, when much of the eastern United States is beset by a record-breaking heat wave, what could be more refreshing than a nice cold, fresh bottle of water?
After all, that’s exactly what is recommended by CDC health officials for prevention of heat-related illness:

Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar-these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

But, maybe, before you pass by the sink on your way to the fridge to get that nice bottle of water, you should watch this video…

This video was brought to mind this morning as I filled several liters of reusable water bottles with tap water in preparation for heading out into the field. It was also brought to mind by the newest Scienceblogs advertorial blog, Pepsico. In addition to being a major manufacturer of those sugary drinks the CDC is warning you not to drink on hot days, Pepsi is also a major producer of bottled water. Their Aquafina brand of bottled water is filtered, municipal tap water. But while muncipal water supplies are required to report their water quality and comply with federal drinking water standards, much fewer regulations exist around the quality of bottled water. So while there are some places where there are legitimate reasons for people to drink bottled water (e.g., lead pipes, pollution from coal mining or natural gas extraction), for the vast majority of Americans, there is no health benefit to drinking bottled water over municipal tap water.
Honestly, though, bottled municipal tap water doesn’t bother me as much as bottled spring water, where the springs and the aquatic ecosystems that depend on them can be destroyed in pursuit of the mythical pureness (and retail power) of spring water. While the bottled water industry will assure you that their groundwater consumption is much less than 1% of the national total groundwater withdrawals, the effects of those withdrawals are localized and not distributed around the country evenly. Finally, it doesn’t take much analysis to understand why buying bottled water from Fiji, an island in the tropical Pacific where a shallow freshwater lens will be irrevocably contaminated by salt water intrusion by overpumping of the aquifer, is a ridiculously bad idea.
For more on this topic, you might consider reading Peter Gleick’s book, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.
So, today, drink plenty of tap water and stay cool!

Categories: by Anne, environment, hydrology, ranting

Comments (5)

  1. Lab Lemming says:

    I know a number of aqueous geochem grad labs where the exercise is for students to bring in their favorite spring water, run it in the ICP, and then report how many elements are over the various regulatory limits.
    A scary rumor I heard was that after this exercise caught on, the EU raised the allowable level of uranium by several ppm just to keep Perrier legal.
    And just to keep your pepsico friends happy, my favorite reusable waterbottle is a 1 liter widemouth pepsi/mountain dew/ whatever else they make these days. They are lighter than gearhead bottles, cost much less, and come with free soda. And if you do break them, you can find replacements almost anywhere. On my Appalachian Trail hike, they lasted an average of about 1000 miles (2x a nalgene).

  2. Its very easy to drink tap water while in your home or at your workplace, but the most discouraging aspect to the bottled water v. tap water debate is the invisible barrier to access that people perceive when trying to stay hydrated while out and about. Asking a stranger to refill your reusable bottle in a shop or restaurant can be awkward and unnerving for many people, especially when a simple alternative is readily available in the form of a disposable bottle of spring water. Social discomfort swiftly trumps individual enviro-impact. We’ve actually been developing and delivering a community-based initiative to help rectify this issue. Using our website ( and smart phone application, we work in partnership with municipalities, local businesses and conservation groups to provide online mapped details on where to find clean, free sources across the nation to refill your reusable bottle without feeling compelled to make any additional purchases. We‚Äôre working hard to give people barrier-free access to clean, healthy tap water while out of their homes.

  3. David Estlund says:

    Evan, I encourage you to spread the word: many working-class folks in the service industry see right through the bottled water scam. Even when we can afford it, we often avoid it because it’s such a bourgeois affectation. Those of us who know would applaud you for living sensibly, and those who don’t might be glad to learn that they aren’t hurting themselves by saving their money and drinking from the tap.

  4. Passerby says:

    Now that BlueW website and cellphone app is a splendid idea!
    I’ve finally taken to filling a large BPA-free carboy with drinking water when I’m out for extended periods either on travel or on field work.
    Anne, you’ve brought up methane drilling and hydrofracking fluid contamination of surficial aquifers, which is presently ‘exempt’ from action under the 2005 US Energy Bill, maybe your should post on this topic.
    It’s a hot issue, with a TON of well-field drilling going on at present.

  5. Brandon says:

    I heard a great interview on NPR of Mr. Gleick concerning this matter. I learned that you can fill a glass with tap water, and fill a glass with bottled municipal water, place them side by side and have the same water governed by two different agencies (EPA for tap; FDA for municipal bottled). The regulations required by each agency also differ, which is very interesting, strange and frightening to me!

    Links (1)
  1. Pingback: Stuff we linked to on Twitter last week | Highly Allochthonous