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Pouring money down the drain?

By Naomi Mannino · Bankrate.com
Friday, March 16, 2012
Posted: 2 pm ET

I haven't bought bottled water in almost a decade. In the interest of saving money for our family of five, we pack our own reusable water bottles. I'm apparently in the minority. Kim Jeffery, president and chief executive of Nestle Waters North America, said that  bottled water consumption rose in the U.S. from 16 gallons a decade ago to currently 24 gallons per person per year, in a Reuters article this week.

2011 earnings releases for two of the biggest bottled-water producers reported that bottled-water sales also rose during 2011 for Danone Waters, makers of Evian and Volvic and Nestle, sellers  of 15 different water brands including Nestle Pure Life, Poland Spring, Deer Park, Perrier and San Pellegrino.

But when it comes to being frugal, handing over $1 (or two to three times that at events and venues) for a bottle of water  is a waste of money. "It's a bad habit to think that a dollar here and a dollar there is inconsequential," says David Bach, author of "The Automatic Millionaire."

"Try to become conscious about saving those small amounts of money every day instead of spending them," Bach told me.  "That same $2 or $3 saved and added every day, even with today's low savings rates, compounded over the next 40 years, results in hundreds of thousands of retirement dollars. You have to change the way you think about your spending."

And, if you think you're paying for healthier or more pure water, be aware that the bottled water companies are not required by the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the industry, to publish water quality tests but The Environmental Protection Agency requires water utilities to do so for tap water.

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a nonprofit public health and environmental information watch group, encourages consumers to drink tap water that has been filtered using pitcher or tap-mounted filters or those certified to remove contaminants. The EWG recommends choosing a stainless steel bottle to avoid  the leaching of a harmful chemical in some hard plastics called bisphenol-A, or BPA, into your water. Plastics that contain BPA have No. 7 stamped into them.

"A little bit of planning on where you are going and what you will be doing that day can (help you to) save your food budget by packing your own healthier drinks," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, author of "MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better."

So give me one good reason why you are still shelling out cash for bottled water?

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1 Comment
Erik
March 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I can give you thousands of reasons (i.e., chemicals). In any case, there is at least one company that produces the most purified water available utilizing micro and ultrafiltration, ozone and reverse osmosis and distillation. It's not surprising that I often see these articles over the last few years bashing private water purchasing or that simply buying a water canister filter is sufficient to remove contaminants. Those that study water contamination and purification methods however, all disagree with this notion.

Regarding EPA standards as an assurance of safe drinking water, I just want to leave you with one piece of information that I feel helps to make my point regarding why EPA standards alone aren't enough.

I'm sure you've probably heard of endocrine disrupting compounds such as PCBs and DDT, which the U.S. has banned in terms of production due to their detrimental health effects. Having said that, there are a great number of other potential endocrine disruptors, including Bisphenol A (commonly used in can linings, water bottles and really most plastics and similar materials) and certain pesticides. These endocrine disruptors can lead to abnormal development of sexual organs, infertility and cancer. Now, having said that, I'd like to make get back to my point regarding why EPA shouldn't be used as the sole determinant of what is safe or not.

In 1996 Congress directed EPA to conduct a comprehensive screening program for endocrine disruptors in the environment and most importantly, those occurring in drinking water since they may very well be resistant to normal water treatment processes. So, instead of quickly starting the research on these compounds, EPA spent 10 years forming various committees and subcommittees evaluating what compounds would be worthy of study and how, in terms of methodology, the studies should be carried out. It wasn't until 2002 that EPA finally devised a selection process to choose the first 50-100 compounds or chemicals (out of thousands) that would eventually be analyzed for potential harm after drinking water exposure. In 2007, EPA published their first draft of these chemicals which you can find online. Only in 2009 did it finalize the list, which you again can find online. Only in October of 2009 did they finally announce that the actual research or analysis of these chemicals would finally begin. In effect, it took EPA 13 years just to start the research process on a small number of potential endocrine disruptors. In all honesty, do you think that's a very efficient time scale? Thirteen years after Congress asked for it, EPA just started to look at these compounds. In all likelihood, it will likely be another 7 years or more before EPA determines what should be done. That's 20 years before any action has taken place after Congress has directed EPA to do so.

I also don't think the average person understands the the common disinfection techniques used by public water suppliers (e.g., chlorination) can in some cases, like acetaminophen, create disinfection byproducts that are more toxic than the parent compound.

And again, these compounds aren't removed by that cheap device that is bought at your national store chain. The consensus is that to remove all potential contaminants, multiple methods must be used, hence the reason that employing the use of granular activated carbon, RO and distillation is best. Unfortunately, unless you're very wealthy, no regular citizen could afford to have this done. This is where some companies can do these things on a larger scale. Is is more expensive? Sure. But I would rather have water that has been purified in that manner to remove compounds that EPA hasn't even reviewed yet for safety to determine if they ought to be regulated.

Who wants to wait 30 years for EPA to finally say, "oh yeah, that compound is pretty bad, let's set a maximum level for it". That's 30 years after you and your children have already been consuming it.

There are actually a small number of municipal water supply plants in the US that use one or two advanced water treatment methods, but as research has shown, even those aren't sufficient to remove all potential contaminants (e.g., VOC's, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, disinfection byproducts, etc.). Still, it shows that this is a real issue. Minnesota is one example.