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5 Myths About Plastic Water Bottles: Economical and Safe? Hardly

Aug. 26, 2014
Plastic water bottles: Economical and safe? Hardly

People drink bottled water for a variety of reasons: It’s healthier than tap water. It tastes better than tap water. And it’s more convenient than carrying a canteen. But do these reason stand up to scrutiny? Let’s take a look.

Myth #1: bottled water is better for you than tap water. Not necessarily. Between 25% and 40% bottled water comes from U.S. municipal water supplies, according to WebMed. But that could be a good thing. Municipal water quality is overseen by the EPA. Bottled water quality is the purview of the FDA. In several instances, EPA regulations are tougher than FDA regulations. For example, municipal water systems must be continually tested for harmful microbes while bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week.

Myth #2: Varieties of bottled water with vitamins, minerals, or protein added are much healthier than plain tap water. All the vitamins, herbs, proteins, and other additives in bottled water are mostly just marketing ploys, according to Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University. Any nutritional ingredients they do add amount to a small fraction of what you need on a daily basis. And so-called “enhanced waters” usually contain sugars and artificial flavorings for sweetening, giving the souped-up water more calories than diet soda. Meanwhile, tap water contains one healthy ingredient in adequate supply (other than water itself): fluoride. Some bottlers are starting to add it to their waters.
Bottled water may also be hurting your health because of the bottle it comes in. Plastic bottles release small amounts of chemicals over long periods of time, according to a recent study. And the longer water is stored in a plastic bottle, the higher the concentration of a potentially harmful chemical. This study looked at 132 brands of bottled water from 28 countries that get bottled in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers.
Other researchers discovered high levels of other unhealthy chemicals, including antimony, a toxic chemical that causes arsenic-like symptoms in humans.  Concentrations increase because chemicals continue to leach out of the plastic as long as water sits in the bottle.

Myth #3: Water bottles are easy on the environment because they are recyclable: Well, theoretically. Of the 70 million water bottles people in the U.S. empty daily, only 14% get recycled. The other 86%, or over 60 million of them, end up in the trash. And the environmental costs don’t stop there. There’s also the oil used every year to make all those plastic bottles. According to the Earth Institute, that oil would keep 100,000 cars rolling for a year.

Myth #4: Bottled water is inexpensive: Bottled water costs between 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Most water from municipal sources costs under 1¢/gal.
In San Francisco, for example, municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so clean the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco even filter it. But, if you bought and drank one $1.35 bottle of Evian, you could refill the empty bottle once a day for over 10 years using San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. To crunch the numbers a different way, if tap water cost the same as inexpensive bottled water, monthly home water bills would run $9,000.

Myth #5: But bottled water tastes better: In practically every statistically significant taste test conducted, it’s been shown that the vast majority of people can’t differentiate between bottled and tap water. In one study conducted by Showtime television, 75% of tested New York City residents preferred tap water to bottled water in a blind taste test.
Studies also show that the "purest" water (distilled water with all minerals and salts removed) tastes flat; In fact, it’s the “impurities”-- the sodium, calcium, magnesium, and chlorides -- that give water its flavor.

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