Research Paper: Should the Government Ban Bottled Water?

Pages: 11 (3428 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Topic: Transportation - Environmental Issues  ·  Buy for $19.77

¶ … Bottled Water Be Banned?

Why are Americans, Europeans, and other citizens around the globe buying bottled water in such enormous quantities? What is wrong with the water their communities provide? These questions are the essence of the issues addressed in this paper and these are the salient questions that need to be answered in order to understand why billions of plastic bottles are filled with water and sold in supermarkets and elsewhere every year. If a family cannot be certain that the water they drink from the tap in their kitchens is truly safe, what is their alternative?

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), among the most respected and visible conservation and environmental organizations, "pollution and deteriorating, out-of-date plumbing" are delivering water to homes that "might pose health risks" to families. The NRDC conducted a study of 19 cities and found that many of them rely on pipes and treatment technology that were designed and installed prior to World War I, nearly ninety years ago.

The NRDC asserts that those old lead pipes are dangerous; indeed, in the water that the NRDC tested the following contaminants were discovered: lead (corroded pipes and plumbing fixtures cause lead particles to get into drinking water; that can cause brain damage in children and infants); pathogens (these germs cause illness, especially in children and the elderly; the outdated treatment technologies cannot filter out many pathogens); Chlorine by products trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids (can cause cancer and reproductive problems); arsenic (can cause birth defects, cancer, reproductive problems and "serious skin problems"); and radon (contains "rocket fuel perchlorate and other carcinogens") (NRDC). Which of the 19 cities that the NRDC studied showed the least amount of candor when it comes to updated information about water systems? Atlanta, Boston, Fresno, Houston, Newark, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C. offered "…false, unqualified or misleading claims," NRDC reports. Moreover, those cities tended to "bury crucial information about problems deep in their reports." New Orleans, Newark and Phoenix provided "incorrect or misleading data," the NRDC explains. And "Nearly all cities in the study failed to report on the health effects of most contaminants found in their water" (NRDC). Other cities also have serious problems with pollution and contaminants -- including Albuquerque, where "groundwater is becoming seriously depleted" and Fresno where the groundwater is "highly susceptible to contamination" (NRDC).

How safe is the chlorine that is added to tap water? Many people buy bottled water as an alternative to drinking the chlorine cities put in water. There are horror stories about chlorine, some of them true to a degree, some fictional. An article in About.com (responding to an environmental question in EarthTalk) asserts that chlorine is a "highly efficient disinfectant" (West, 2009). However, there are serious concerns about the use of chlorine, and with good reason. When chlorine mixes with water it reacts with other "…naturally-occurring elements to form toxins called trihalomethanes (THMs)," West writes on page 1.

There are human health risks with THMs as they enter into the body, including the possibility of getting asthma, eczema, bladder cancer and heart disease, according to West. There are reports that THMs can cause miscarriages and birth defects in pregnant women. Moreover, a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) concluded that from 1996 through 2001 "more than 16 million Americans consumed dangerous amounts of contaminated tap water" (West, p. 1). Jane Houlihan, the Research Director for EWG said "Dirty water going into the treatment plan means water contaminated with chlorination by products coming out of your tap." She insisted that the solution isn't to "bombard" water supplies with chlorine, but rather to "clean up our lakes, rivers and streams" (West, p. 1).

The research presented in this introduction is background into why so many people are buying bottled water. There are clearly risks in using tap water. However, as this paper will reflect through the literature, there are also risks though the use of bottled water.

Thesis: Should the federal government ban bottled water? From the evidence available and the research that has been done by bona fide environmental organizations, this paper takes the position that bottled water sold in plastic containers should be banned. It may take time for this legislation to play out, but whether it is one year, ten years, or twenty years, bottled water should be -- and will be -- outlawed in our lifetime.

Literature Review on Bottled Water

That having been stated, the reality is that banning bottled water will not happen any time soon. According to Iowa State University research, sales of bottled water "have more than quadrupled in the last 10 years" notwithstanding the fact that "…bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water" (www.extension.iastate.edu). The Iowa State University research references an Earth Policy Institute study that asserts bottled water costs "as much as 10,000 times as much as tap water -- that's as much as $2.50 per liter ($10 per gallon) more than the price of gasoline" (Iowa State). In fact the Iowa State research shows that if a person drank 10 cups of water from bottled water sources, it would amount to an annual cost of $1,764.

Also, because plastic bottles are a product of fossil fuels, more than 1.5 million barrels of oil are needed annually to produce the plastic bottles used by American consumers, the Iowa State research -- edited by Ruth Litchfield, nutritionist at Iowa State -- shows. About 100,000 automobiles would have fuel for a year based on the amount of oil needed to produce enough plastic bottles for a year's supply in America. More shocking is Iowa State's assertion that bottled water products "can contain 10 times the amount of bacteria as found in municipal tap water."

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that 25% "or more" of bottled water is just tap water that sometimes receives further treatment but often does not receive any purification (NRDC). In their Executive Report for the widely publicized research project the NRDC says that among other things, the marketing of bottled water can be misleading and outright false as well. One brand of bottled water that has a photo of a lake and pristine mountains actually has as its source of water "a well in an industrial facility's parking lot, near a hazardous waste dump," the NRDC report explains. Occasionally this particular source of water was "contaminated with industrial chemicals" at levels well above FDA standards (NRDC).

On the subject of deception, the NRDC's research found a product with an attractive label named "Alsaika" ("Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water: Pure Glacier Water From the Last Unpolluted Frontier, Bacteria Free"); however, digging deeper, the NRDC investigation discovered that water used in this product "Apparently came from a public water supply." And then there are false health claims some bottled water companies put forward. The NRDC writes that the International Bottled Water Association has voluntary codes that prohibit any health claims. That said, "Vals Water" makes the following claim: "Known to Generations in France for its Purity and Agreeable Contribution to Health…Reputed to Help Restore energy, Vitality, and Combat Fatigue…"

Does the Food and Drug Administration Regulate Bottled Water?

Ostensibly, the FDA does in fact have the responsibility for monitoring the safety of bottled water. But there is a catch. The rules that FDA operates under "completely exempt 60-70% of the bottled water sold in the United States from the agency's bottled water standards," the NRDC explains. Why? The FDA only monitors bottled water that is sold across state lines. Water packaged and sold in the same state does not fall under the FDA's purview. There are about 40 states that indicate they do indeed regulate bottled water but that means one in five states do not regulate bottled water.

The NRDC has a long list of factual comparisons between EPA regulations (the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for monitoring city tap water) and FDA regulations -- and in every case the testing and monitoring of bottled water falls radically short of the stringent requirements that the EPA attaches to city tap water. A few of those are germane to this paper and should be included:

a) the EPA guidelines prohibit even minute amounts of E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria; the FDA has no such prohibition; b) City water must be "filtered and disinfected" but there are no "federal filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water"; c) Big city tap water must by federal law be tested a hundred times a month or more for coliform bacteria; bottled water plants are required to check for coliform bacteria "just once a week"; d) Tap water in cities must meet standards for cancer-causing chemicals like phthalate (a chemical that according to the NRDC can "leach from plastic…bottles"); but lobbyists for the bottled water industry "persuaded the FDA to exempt bottled water from regulations" that would restrict those chemicals; e) When there are violations of standards for tap water, the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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