Don’t Drink the Water

, Heather Latham, Leave a comment

Is your bottled water unsafe? Are you just as well off drinking tap water as bottled water? According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the answer to these questions may be yes.

In 1999, the NRDC did a study “of more than 1000 bottles of 103 types of bottled water from many parts of the country.” The study was done on bottled water from California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. They found that “according to government and industry estimates, about one fourth of bottled water is bottled tap water…sometimes with additional treatment, sometimes not.” They also found that regulations on bottled water are not as strict as they should be. Bottled water falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) while tap water falls under that of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA standards are much stricter than the FDA’s, according to this NRDC study.

The NRDC also makes a list of suggestions about how the government should move forward to correct this problem: the same strict standards should be applied to all drinking water. The NRDC suggests that the perfect long-term goal should be safe drinking water from the tap everywhere, but this reform would take a long time and a lot of money to execute.

Fast forward to 2007: activists took this study and ran with it. Angela Logomasini, Ph.D., at a recent Conservative Bloggers’ Briefing, explained the absurdity of the extent of some of the actions. In a report on the current situation, she finds that the activist groups “are promoting bans, taxes, and regulations on bottled water.” On the website, she lists a few of some recent bans put on bottled water. In June of 2007, Salt Lake City banned purchases of bottled water—including to firefighters. “[T]hen-Mayor Rocky Anderson explained that each firefighter would get a refillable container. Two additional personnel would be dispatched to each fire to refill on the scene, which one would think might cost taxpayers more than a few bottles of water.” In that same summer, New York City launched a $700,000 advertising campaign “encourag[ing] people to drink tap water rather than bottled water.” In June of 2008, the National Conference of Mayors issued a resolution “calling on more cities to stop buying bottled water” for their employees. According to Logomasini’s report, the whole state of Washington is considering a ban on bottled water. The city of Chicago has “applie[d] a tax of five cents per bottle of water, regardless of size.” However, the city’s ability to do so is being contested in court. Finally, “Lawmakers in Pittsburgh said they wanted to ban government purchases of bottled water per the U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution. However, old pipes in the city’s office building produce rusty, orange water. According to news reports, the mayor indicated he wanted to be green, and bottled water was their best alternative. Apparently, not all tap water meets the same quality standards of bottled water, despite claims to the contrary.”

Logomasini argues in her report that “[t]he activists’ claims do not hold water.” This is not exactly true, as there is a whole study to back up said claims. However, that study was done 10 years ago, and standards and regulations may have changed. Whatever the case, Logomasini is right about at least one thing: the government should not be able to regulate bottled water. That is a consumer choice, and the government’s right to regulate stops at making sure the water is safe to drink by setting standards and ensuring they are followed. If they worry about the safety of bottled water, then they should raise standards, not ban or tax it.

Heather Latham is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.