Blowing the lid off bottled water
Published: Sunday, November 13, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 14, 2011 00:11
Brian Pirolozzi, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences stared at his bottle of Dasani incredulously.
"Why would we have to buy bottled water if it wasn't better than tap water?" he said.
LIke many others, Pirolozzi said he thought botted water was healthier than tap water because it costs more. The bottled water industry has yearly sales ranging between $50 billion to $100 billion worldwide, according to mnn.com.
Advertisements represent it as being a healthy alternative to tap water. It is bottled to be aesthetically pleasing, with one brand's bottle shaped like a drop of water with a gold cap.
But Michelle Van Dyke, a community relations coordinator for the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department, said bottled water is "one of the biggest marketing scams of this past century."
"Our water costs half a penny a gallon," said Van Dyke of Hillsborough County tap water. "When I was out with my family the other weekend, I had to buy a 16 ounce bottle of water and it cost me $2.50."
The nationwide average cost of tap water is 0.002 cents per gallon, though consumers spend around 1,900 times as much to drink bottled water, which is about $3.80 per gallon. Those who buy bottled water in 16 ounce containers, which cost an average of $1.50, spend around 6,000 times as much money, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The price of bottled water could be defendable if consumers gained something from the extra charge. But Connie Mizak, a USF professor in the department of Geography, Environment and Planning, said that has yet to be proven.
"There is no empirical evidence that bottled water is cleaner than tap water ... There's a lot of money being made on a resource that is available to all of us out of our faucets. It is a scheme, essentially," she said. "The scary part is that, while municipal water is regulated by the EPA and has to meet the Safe Drinking Water Act standards, bottled water is regulated by the FDA and, under these rules, if bottled water is produced in a state and that product never crosses state boundaries to be sold, then it's exempt from any regulations."
This goes for all of the nearly two-dozen water bottlers located in Florida, including Zephyrhills, Aquafina and Dasani, which is sold on USF's campus.
Dasani representatives could not be reached for comment.
Even if the bottled water has crossed state lines and has been required to meet FDA standards, they have "more lax requirements than tap water, which is tested on more elements," said Van Dyke. Bottled water that is marketed as "100 percent spring water" is not even purified, she said, as the FDA allows it to come straight from the spring.
The filtration process bottled water companies use is often reverse osmosis for water from aquifers or other non-spring sources. This is a very common filtration technique, one that can even be installed at home for a one-time cost of $100, Mizak said. For those with a smaller budget, Mizak said, "carbon filters work just fine and catch the majority, if not all, of what reverse osmosis removes."
USF has purified refilling stations in locations all around campus, such as Cooper Hall and various residence halls.
"A lot of my friends say they like the convenience of bottled water," said Melisa Gingold, a sophomore majoring in business. "I've had my reusable water bottle for years now, though, and all I have to do is fill it up on my way out the door; that's pretty convenient to me."
Health concerns have also arisen in the bottled water dispute. Research has found that plastic bottles are leading to the development of carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, cells in the water.
A recent study conducted by the University of Missouri, found a "78 percent increase in the growth of the breast cancer cells compared to a control sample," according to the EWG. The group responded to the study, saying the "ingestion of endocrine-disrupting and cancer-promoting chemicals from plastics is considered to be a potentially important health concern."
Mizak said it could take "30 to 40 years" for cancer to develop from a carcinogenic chemical.
"Even though we don't see the effects now, there could be effects down the road," she said. "Why would you want to risk that?"
Mizak also expressed environmental concerns.
"Companies are buying whole aquifers and depleting them to a point that sink holes are created," she said. "These aquifers are essentially holding up everything around them, and when you draw water out of them at an unsustainable rate, it's going to lead to a collapse."
After learning the facts concerning his bottle of water, Pirolozzi was less than thrilled about taking another sip.
"I feel like I'm being robbed and poisoned simultaneously," he said.