Bottled water across the country contains a wide variety of toxic substances, according to laboratory tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
“Our tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted,” the study authors write. “Given the industry’s refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in the purity of bottled water is simply not justified.”
Researchers conducted comprehensive tests at the renowned University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory on 10 leading bottled water brands, purchased from retailers in nine states and the District of Columbia (D.C.). A total of 38 toxic pollutants were detected altogether, with each brand containing an average of eight. Chemicals detected included fluoride, byproducts of chlorine-based disinfection, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, fertilizer residue, plasticizers, solvents, fuel propellants, arsenic, other minerals and heavy metals, and radioactive isotopes. Four brands also contained bacteria.
More than a third of the chemicals detected are not regulated by the bottled water industry. Voluntary industry standards regulate the following two-thirds, but water purchased in five states and in D.C. contained levels of some carcinogens in excess of even the industry’s standards.
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“In other words, this bottled water was chemically indistinguishable from tap water,” the authors write. “But with promotional campaigns saturated with images of mountain springs, and prices 1,900 times the price of tap water, consumers are clearly led to believe that they are buying a product that has been purified to a level beyond the water that comes out of the garden hose.”
Further analysis at the University of Missouri found that when applied to breast cancer cells, one brand of water led to a 78 percent increase in proliferation rate compared with untreated cells. The addition of estrogen-blocking chemicals noticeably reduced this effect.
“Though this result is considered a modest effect relative to the potency of some other industrial chemicals … the sheer volume of bottled water people consume elevates the health significance of the finding,” the researchers write.
The researchers were unable to determine if estrogen-mimics in the water came from the water itself or had leached out of the plastic bottle.
In accordance with standard scientific practice, the report does not name the brands tested. Exceptions were made for the brands Sam’s Choice (Wal-Mart) and Acadia (Giant), however, which contained toxin levels high enough to violate California law.
Samples of both brands tested positive for trihalomethanes, which have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer. The chemicals form when water disinfectants react with pollution. The water also contained bromodichloromethane, a carcinogen regulated under California law. In response, EWG is preparing a lawsuit against Wal-Mart to require that Sam’s Choice water contain the legally required notice: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
Acadia-brand water is not sold in California.
Bottled water purchased from these brands also exceeded the bottled water industry’s voluntary standards.
“The bottled water industry boasts that its internal regulations are stricter than the FDA bottled water regulations,” the researchers write, “but voluntary standards that companies are failing to meet are of little use.”