Environmental Working Groups Finds Contaminants in 10 Bottled Water Brands Tested

The $12 Billion bottled water industry is reeling this morning after the publication of an Environmental Working Group research paper that showed contamination in every one of the ten brands of bottled water purchased at various locations.

Two of the brands were identified as exceeding the legal limits allowed in California, and all the brands featured some kind of contaminents, though eight of the brands weren’t identified. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization with offices in Oakland, tested 10 brands of bottled water and found that Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Choice contained chemical levels that exceeded legal limits in California and the voluntary standards adopted by the

The tests discovered an average of eight contaminants in each brand. Four brands besides Wal-Mart’s also were contaminated with bacteria.

The Environmental Working Group’s press release pretty much lays it out for today’s bottled water drinker:

“It’s buyer beware with bottle water,” said Jane Houlihan, Vice President for Research at EWG. “The bottled water industry promotes its products as pure and healthy, but our tests show that pollutants in some popular brands match the levels found in some of the nation’s most polluted big city tap water systems. Consumers can’t trust that what’s in the bottle is anything more than processed, pricey tap water.”

“For years the bottled water industry has marketed their product with the message that it is somehow safer or purer than tap water,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the non-profit consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “This new report provides even more evidence that the purity of bottled water is nothing more than a myth propagated to trick consumers into paying thousands times more for a product than what it is actually worth.”

Laboratory tests conducted for EWG at one of the country’s leading water
quality laboratories found 38 contaminants in ten brands of bottled water purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in nine states and the District of Columbia. The pollutants identified include common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals, an array of cancer-causing byproducts from municipal tap water chlorination, heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes, fertilizer residue and a broad range of industrial chemicals. Four brands were also contaminated with bacteria.

Unlike tap water, where consumers are provided with test results every year, the bottled water industry does not disclose the results of any contaminant testing that it conducts. Instead, the industry hides behind the claim that bottled water is held to the same safety standards as tap water. But with promotional campaigns saturated with images of mountain springs, and prices 1,000 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.

Expect a great deal of wailing and teeth gnashing over this one. Nestle – already rocked by revelations its Chinese-produced milk products contained melamine – has already issued a statement unsurprisingly characterizing the report as “false and misleading” – thought they didn’t provide information as to how it might be so.

I’m shocked.

I don’t typically focus on non-Nestle bottled water issues, but this is a bombshell dropped right into the lap of an industry facing a slowing market and a lot of pressure from environmentalists and public trust advocates.

We’ll keep you up to date on this one.

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