In the past few decades, bottled water has become a mainstay in the fitness community. It is not uncommon to see runners with a plastic bottle in their hand or belt pack. Some companies even make tiny bottles marketed to the parents of toddlers, or flavored waters with sugar and extra chemicals (aka “vitamins”).
You can get exotic island water, or water from the Alps. Bottled water is a multi-billion dollar industry, with millions of bottles being consumed every day.
This addiction to plastic, which is actually an addiction to oil, is killing us. Of those tens of millions of bottles consumed every day, 85 percent end up in landfills or incinerators. And the amount of water and oil used to produce, transport, and cool those water bottles is staggering.
I swore off bottled water long ago for health reasons just as much as the environmental impact. Despite the claims of crafty advertisers, bottled water is not healthy for the human body, for a number of reasons.
First let’s talk about what transports the water. Most water bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a clear plastic derived from oil. PET is made with a cocktail of cancer-causing substances, including benzene and arsenic. These chemicals can leach into the water, especially if it is stored for a long time or gets direct sunlight on it.
PET can disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system. The communities in which PET bottles are produced report skyrocketing numbers of cancer from the air and water pollution created by manufacturing these bottles.
Many bottles, especially reusable sports bottles and large home and office water cooler bottles, are produced with BPA (bisphenol-A). BPA is a known endocrine-disruptor. It mimics the effects of estrogen in the body, and can wreak havoc on the reproductive system. When it interacts with UV rays or is heated, it produces the toxin dioxin.
BPA has been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, liver disease, brain disorders, obesity, diabetes, and learning problems.
The packaging itself is bad enough, but the water can be even more deadly. Some bottled waters are 25-40 percent straight, unfiltered tap water. Unlike municipal water, which is strictly monitored and tested several times a day, bottled water has pathetically small amounts of regulation. And bottled water manufacturers are not required to tell consumers if toxins or contaminants have been discovered in their water.
This means that bottled water could contain contaminants like Giardia, E.coli, asbestos, bromate, and many other unregulated pathogens and industrial chemicals.
In 2009, the Environmental Working Group ran an independent study on 10 brands of bottled water. It found the presence of 38 chemical pollutants, some of them in numbers that exceeded both FDA and EPA regulations for safe human consumption.
These contaminants included industrial solvents, fertilizer residue, chlorination by-products, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. One of the samples tested significantly increased the production of breast cancer cells in a lab experiment.
Even if your plastic-encased water is magically free of these cancer-causing substances, that does not automatically mean that it is good for you. If the water has been purified, it is likely that the purification process stripped the vital trace minerals that allow us to actually be nourished by the water, rather than just flushed by it.
What You Can Do
Stop buying plastic water bottles. It really is as simple as that. Usually I prefer to give gentle suggestions, but this is a big issue that requires a big global shift. Just stop.
Get a purification system for your tap water that is appropriate for the water in your home. They can be an expensive initial investment, especially systems that remove pharmaceuticals and heavy metals, but will be well worth it in the long run. Use only glass or unlined stainless steel water bottles to transport your filtered water from home.