Top Bottled Water Risks: Are You Drinking This Toxic Rip-Off?

A Better Cancer Detox

By Leah Zerbe, MS, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES

Bottled water risks include more than just draining your bank account. You see, those single-use bottles found in supermarkets, gas stations and gyms across the country are what I like to call “toxic rip-offs.” Why? Because you’re paying way more for a product that contains harmful compounds. Case in point: A recent German-led study found that a single bottle of bottle watercontained nearly 25,000 chemicals. More on that later.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about that hard plastic, reusable water bottles know for their BPA toxic effects. I’m referring to the ones people use once then either recycle or toss in the garbage. It’s time we explore how expensive, unhealthy and unsustainable bottled water is, along with some very harmful side effects of the bottled water industry.

The latest? In widespread testing, a whopping 93 percent of bottled water samples tested were contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic. The studyfound an average of 10 total plastic particles and plastic fibers per liter; that’s twice the plastic level found in tap water. And get this: Some of the most popular brands were contaminated — this is widespread. A small amount of the plastic fragments tested positive for industrial lubricants, but researchers say there’s evidence that at least some of the tiny plastic pieces found in the water come from the packaging itself … perhaps the caps because polypropylene plastic bits turned up in more than half the bottled water samples tested.

But the bigger issue is that plastic contamination from single-use plastics is widespread and out of control. We’ve got to end our addiction to plastic.

Now,  I don’t want to discount the fact that some people are relying on bottled water to survive. For instance, families whose drinking water is contaminated from ever-more-common flooding, lead-contaminated, outdated infrastructure, fracking chemicals or pipeline spills, it’s safe to say that most Americans drinking bottled water are doing it out of convenience rather than necessity.(234)

Ironically, natural gas is used to make many plastics, and when families’ wells become contaminated from the dangers of fracking, they’re often forced to use bottled water to survive.


Fast Facts: Basic Bottled Water Stats


The Top Bottled Water Risks

Chemicals in the Bottled Water. Some of the chemicals detected in bottled water are linked to abnormal hormone function and an increased risk of cancer, among other ills. Most convenience-size beverage bottles sold in the U.S. are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This is referred to as #1 on the bottom-of-the-bottle recycling code. Believed to be a relatively safe single-use plastic, evidence is emerging that PET may leach antimony trioxide, a catalyst and flame retardant in PET.

In fact, the longer the water is sitting in a PET bottle, the more chemicals released into the water. Warm temperatures also are believed to accelerate leaching. (Translation: Leaving bottled water in hot cars is dangerous.) Workers chronically exposed to antimony trioxide report issues like respiratory and skin irritation, irregular periods and miscarriage. Phthalate endocrine disruptors also leach from PET. (11)

One study found antimony levels in bottled water increased anywhere from 19 to 90 percent after 6 months of storage at room temperature. (12) Antimony is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization.  (13)

A 2009 study investigating the estrogen contamination affects of bottled water found widespread contamination. The researchers say part of the estrogen mimickers found in the water originated from compounds leaching from the plastic packaging material. (14)

Perhaps it’s the sheer number of chemicals detected in bottled water that’s most concerning. In 2013, German researchers published a study showing a single bottle of water contained nearly 25,000 different chemicals. The scientists focused on testing bottled water for its capability to interfere with estrogen and androgen receptors in the body.

They found most bottled water tested resulted in some hormone interference. And it didn’t take a high level of chemicals to do this. As little as one-tenth of an ounce inhibited estrogenic activity by 60 percent and androgenic activity by 90 percent. According to the scientists involved in the study, this hormonal activity is on par with prostate cancer drug flutamide. On the flip side, tap water did not show signs of this hormonal interference. (1516)

Wasted Money. Bottled water costs about 2,000 times as much as tap water. (Do I need to say more?) A much more economical route would be to test your tap water for contaminants (if you’re on well water) and choose the appropriate water filter. As The Story of Bottled Water video above points out: Could you imagine paying 2,000 times more for anything? How about a $10,000 sandwich? (17)

If you drink municipal water, you can request the latest water tests from your water provider and filter accordingly. I suggest starting with a filter to remove chlorine and fluoride from your water. Environmental Working Group offers this great Water Filter Buying Guide for reference.

Don’t fall victim to marketing ploys, either. “Glacier water” or “mountain water” are not regulated bottled water terms and don’t necessarily mean the water came from a pristine area, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Likewise, “purified water is not necessarily free of microbes. (18)

Plastic Stews in Our Oceans (and Fish). Here’s an unsettling stat: Americans use nearly three million plastic water bottles every hour, every day. And a great deal of those bottles eventually wind up in the ocean. (19)

Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. More than five trillion pieces of plastic are already in the oceans, and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish, by weight, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. When CNN recently visited Midway, an island in the Pacific, the crew was greeted with the stench of rotting birds. When a US Fish and Wildlife Service official dissected the birds, they were full of bottle tops and tiny shards of plastic. (20)

The same types of unfortunate occurrences are reported in other sea creatures like fish and whales. We now know that fish and shellfish people eat are contaminated with plastic, plastic fibers from nonnatural clothing and fabrics and the toxins those plastics absorb in the ocean. (21) Incredibly, America’s bottled water habit is now poisoning its own food supply.

The Dirty Side of Creating Plastic Water Bottles. Here’s one of the bottled water risks we don’t often consider: how producing those bottles may impact other communities. Since plastics come from the oil and natural gas industries, simply sourcing and producing the bottles (and dealing with disposing wastewater) can trigger health problems in certain areas.

Specifically, let’s look at environmental injustice, which threatens the health of certain communities. One study found that wastewater disposal wells in southern Texas are disproportionately permitted in areas with higher proportions of people of color and residents living in poverty, a pattern known as “environmental injustice.”

This is a widespread public health problem. As the study authors point out, throughout history, waste disposal often results in environmental pollution and, consequently, harm to human health. And nationwide, a disproportionate number of waste disposal facilities are sited in communities of color. Rural areas often also are burdened with waste from urban and industrial sources. (22)

Creating plastic bottles and transporting bottled water around the world is a major energy expender. The side effects of that may not seem immediately apparent, but we now know that increased greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide, for example) from fossil fuel combustion are warming the planet’s surface, causing changes in oceanic and atmospheric systems, and disrupting weather and hydrological patterns. This poses unprecedented threats to human health by impacts on food and water security, heat waves and droughts, violent storms, infectious disease and rising sea levels. (23)

The pollution and atmospheric changes from burning fossil fuels is linked to increased rates of asthma, COPD, Lyme disease, allergies from skyrocketing pollen counts and cancer. (242526)

According to a Pacific Institute report: (27)


Common-Sense Solutions to Mitigate Bottled Water Risks


Final Thoughts on Bottled Water Risks

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