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Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants

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Published on Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org)
Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants
Bottled water contains disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue, and pain medication
Published October 15, 2008
Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major
Brands, 38 Pollutants
Authors: Olga Naidenko, PhD, Senior Scientist; Nneka Leiba, MPH, Researcher; Renee Sharp, MS, Senior
Scientist; Jane Houlihan, MSCE, Vice President for Research
The bottled water industry promotes an image of purity, but comprehensive testing by the
Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every
bottled water brand analyzed, including toxic byproducts of chlorination in Walmart’s Sam’s Choice and
Giant Supermarket's Acadia brands, at levels no different than routinely found in tap water. Several
Sam's Choice samples purchased in California exceeded legal limits for bottled water contaminants in
that state. Cancer-causing contaminants in bottled water purchased in 5 states (North Carolina,
California, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland) and the District of Columbia substantially exceeded the
voluntary standards established by the bottled water industry.
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 1,900 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.
To the contrary, our tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted. Given the
industry's refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in
the purity of bottled water is simply not justified.
Laboratory tests conducted for EWG at one of the country’s leading water quality laboratories found
that 10 popular brands of bottled water, purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in 9 states
and the District of Columbia, contained 38 chemical pollutants altogether, with an average of 8
contaminants in each brand. More than one-third of the chemicals found are not regulated in bottled
water. In the Sam's Choice and Acadia brands levels of some chemicals exceeded legal limits in
California as well as industry-sponsored voluntary safety standards. Four brands were also contaminated
with bacteria.
Walmart and Giant Brands No Different than Tap Water
Two of 10 brands tested, Walmart's and Giant's store brands, bore the chemical signature of standard
municipal water treatment — a cocktail of chlorine disinfection byproducts, and for Giant water, even
fluoride. In other words, this bottled water was chemically indistinguishable from tap water. The only
striking difference: the price tag.
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In both brands levels of disinfection byproducts exceeded safety standards establishe
d by the state of
California and the bottled water industry:
Walmart’s Sam’s Choice bottled water purchased at several locations in the San Francisco bay area
was polluted with disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes at levels that exceed the state’s
legal limit for bottled water (CDPR 2008). These byproducts are linked to cancer and reproductive
problems and form when disinfectants react with residual pollution in the water. Las Vegas tap
water was the source for these bottles, according to Walmart representatives (EWG 2008).
Also in Walmart’s Sam’s Choice brand, lab tests found a cancer-causing chemical called
bromodichloromethane at levels that exceed safety standards for cancer-causing chemicals under
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65, OEHHA 2008).
EWG is filing suit under this act to ensure that Walmart posts a warning on bottles as required by
law: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause
cancer."
These same chemicals also polluted Giant's Acadia brand at levels in excess of California’s safety
standards, but this brand is sold only in Mid-Atlantic states where California’s health-based limits
do not apply. Nevertheless, disinfection byproducts in both Acadia and Sam’s Choice bottled water
exceeded the industry trade association’s voluntary safety standards (IBWA 2008a), for samples
purchased in Washington DC and 5 states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and
California). The bottled water industry boasts that its internal regulations are stricter than the
FDA bottled water regulations(IBWA 2008b), but voluntary standards that companies are failing to
meet are of little use in protecting public health.
Figure 1. Pollutants in Walmart and Giant Bottled Water Exceed Industry and California Standards
The California legal limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in bottled water has been set by the California
Health and Safety Code, Division 104, Part 5 (Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law, CDPH 2008). The industry standard, Bottled
Water Code of Practice, published by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA 2008a), also sets a limit for TTHMs at 10 ppb.
Two of the TTHM chemicals, bromodichloromethane and chloroform, are regulated in California under the Safe Drinking Water and
Toxic Enforcement Act, also known as Proposition 65 (OEHHA 2008). For bromodichloromethane, a concentration above 2.5 ppb
exceeds a cancer safety standard, as established by the state of California (OEHHA 2008). The standard is based on the Proposition 65
No Significant Risk Level for bromodichloromethane at 5 micrograms per day. For a water consumption rate of 2 L/day (Title 27,
California Code of Regulations, Article 7, Section § 25721), this corresponds to a contaminant concentration in water of 2.5 ppb. The
concentration values indicated by the bars correspond to findings from the specific brand purchased at the specific location. For the
entire dataset, see section Walmart and Giant Water Exceeds Safety Limits. Two independent samples of Sam's Choice water were
purchased in Oakland, CA, with total trihalomethane levels at 21 and 23 ppb and levels of bromodichloromethane at 7.7 and 8.5 ppb.
Two independent samples of Acadia water were purchased in Stafford, VA with total trihalomethane levels at 22 and 23 ppb.
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Broad Range of Pollutants Found in 10 Brands
Altogether, the analyses conducted by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory of these 10 brands of
bottled water revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also
common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and
minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a
broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity
decreasing agents, and propellants.
The identity of most brands in this study are anonymous. This is typical scientific practice for market-
basket style testing programs. We consider these results to represent a snapshot of the market during
the window of time in which we purchased samples. While our study findings show that consumers can't
trust that bottled water is pure or cleaner than tap water, it was not designed to indicate pollutant
profiles typical over time for particular brands. Walmart and Giant bottled water brands are named in
this study because our first tests and numerous followup tests confirmed that these brands contained
contaminants at levels that exceeded state standards or voluntary industry guidelines.
The study also included assays for breast cancer cell proliferation, conducted at the University of
Missouri. One bottled water brand spurred a 78% increase in the growth of the breast cancer cells
compared to the control sample, with 1,200 initial breast cancer cells multiplying to 32,000 in 4 days,
versus only 18,000 for the control sample, indicating that chemical contaminants in the bottled water
sample stimulated accelerated division of cancer cells. When estrogen-blocking chemicals were added,
the effect was inhibited, showing that the cancer-spurring chemicals mimic estrogen, a hormone linked
to breast cancer. Though this result is considered a modest effect relative to the potency of some other
industrial chemicals in spurring breast cancer cell growth, the sheer volume of bottled water people
consume elevates the health significance of the finding. While the specific chemical(s) responsible for
this cancer cell proliferation were not identified in this pilot study, ingestion of endocrine-disrupting
and cancer-promoting chemicals from plastics is considered to be a potentially important health concern
(Le 2008).
With Bottled Water, You Don't Know What You're Getting
Americans drink twice as much bottled water today as they did ten years ago, for an annual total of
over nine billion gallons with producer revenues nearing twelve billions (BMC 2007; IBWA 2008c). Purity
should be included in a price that, at a typical cost of $3.79 per gallon, is 1,900 times the cost of public
tap water.1 But EWG’s tests indicate that in some cases the industry may be delivering a beverage little
cleaner than tap water, sold at a premium price. The health consequences of exposures to these
complex mixtures of contaminants like those found in bottled water have never been studied.
Unlike public water utilities, bottled water companies are not required to notify their customers of the
occurrence of contaminants in the water, or, in most states, to tell their customers where the water
comes from, how and if it is purified, and if it is merely bottled tap water. Information provided on the
U.S. EPA website clearly describes the lack of quality assurance for bottled water: "Bottled water is not
necessarily safer than your tap water" (EPA 2007b). The Agency further adds following consumer
information:
Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not
treated at all. Bottled water costs much more than tap water on a per gallon basis...
Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully read its label to
understand what they are buying, whether it is a better taste, or a certain method of
treatment (EPA 2007b).
In conjunction with this testing program, EWG conducted a survey of 228 brands of bottled water,
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hat fewer than
half describe the water source (i.e., municipal or natural) or provide any information on whether or how
the water is treated. In the absence of complete disclosure on the label, consumers are left in the dark,
making it difficult for shoppers to know if they are getting what they expect for the price.
Figure 2. Walmart and Giant Are Bottling Tap Water
The municipal water sources of the Walmart’s Sam’s Choice and Giant’s Acadia bottled waters were identified through contact with
Walmart representatives, their bottled water manufacturer, and city/utility officials; or from the label (Giant). Data on the levels of
disinfection byproducts (total trihalomethanes or TTHMs) in these municipal water sources were obtained from Notla Water Authority in
Blairsville, Georgia; Las Vegas Valley Water District; and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. These data were from tap water
tests carried out in 2007, which the water utilities disclosed to their customers in an annual report. For every utility the range of values
from lowest to the highest represents the concentrations of TTHMs that were found in the tap water over the course of the year. Notla
Water Authority provided a single value for TTHMs, not a range.
This study did not focus on the environmental impacts of bottled water, but they are striking and have
been well publicized. Of the 36 billion bottles sold in 2006, only a fifth were recycled (Doss 2008). The
rest ended up in landfills, incinerators, and as trash on land and in streams, rivers, and oceans. Water
bottle production in the U.S. uses 1.5 million barrels of oil per every year, according to a U.S.
Conference of Mayors’ resolution passed in 2007, enough energy to power 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000
cars for a year (US Mayors 2007). As oil prices are continuing to skyrocket, the direct and indirect costs
of making and shipping and landfilling the water bottles continue to rise as well (Gashler 2008, Hauter
2008).
Extracting water for bottling places a strain on rivers, streams, and community drinking water supplies
as well. When the water is not bottled from a municipal supply, companies instead draw it from
groundwater supplies, rivers, springs or streams. This "water mining," as it is called, can remove
substantial amounts of water that otherwise would have contributed to community water supplies or to
the natural flow of streams and rivers (Boldt-Van Rooy 2003, Hyndman 2007, ECONorthwest, 2007).
Recommendations
Currently there is a double standard where tap water suppliers provide information to consumers on
contaminants, filtration techniques, and source water; bottled water companies do not. This double
standard must be eliminated immediately; Bottled water should conform to the same right-to-know
standards as tap water.
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To bring bottled water up to the standards of tap water we recommend:
Full disclosure of all test results for all contaminants. This must be done in a way that is readily
available to the public.
Disclosure of all treatment techniques used to purify the water, and:
Clear and specific disclosure of the name and location of the source water.
To ensure that public health and the environment are protected, we recommend:
Federal, state, and local policymakers must strengthen protections for rivers, streams, and
groundwater that serve as America’s drinking water sources. Even though it is not necessarily any
healthier, some Americans turn to bottled water in part because they distrust the quality of their
tap water. And sometimes this is for good reason. Some drinking water (tap and bottled) is grossly
polluted at its source – in rivers, streams, and underground aquifers fouled by decades of wastes
that generations of political and business leaders have dismissed, ignored, and left for others to
solve. A 2005 EWG study found nearly 300 contaminants in drinking water all across the country.
Source water protection programs must be improved, implemented, and enforced nationwide
(EWG 2005b). The environmental impacts associated with bottled water production and
distribution aggravate the nation's water quality problems rather than contributing to their
solution.
Consumers should drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Americans pay an average of
two-tenths of a cent per gallon to drink water from the tap. A carbon filter at the tap or in a
pitcher costs a manageable $0.31 per gallon (12 times lower than the typical cost of bottled
water), and removes many of the contaminants found in public tap water supplies.2 A whole-house
carbon filter strips out chemicals not only from drinking water, but also from water used in the
shower, clothes washer and dishwasher where they can volatilize into the air for families to
breathe in. For an average four-person household, the cost for this system is about $0.25 per
person per day.3 A single gallon of bottled water costs 15 times this amount.
EWG's study has revealed that bottled water can contain complex mixtures of industrial chemicals never
tested for safety, and may be no cleaner than tap water. Given some bottled water company's failure to
adhere to the industry's own purity standards, Americans cannot take the quality of bottled water for
granted. Indeed, test results like those presented in this study may give many Americans reason enough
to reconsider their habit of purchasing bottled water and turn back to the tap.
Footnotes.
1 A recent survey documented bottled water prices ranging from $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon (Food and Water Watch 2007). Retail prices
vary widely depending on whether people are buying bottled water in bulk or individual bottles. Given this wide range in prices, EWG
assumed a flat $1.00 per liter price per liter (or $3.79 per gallon), which is what most consumers would pay for a typical liter bottle of
water bought from a convenience store. In comparison, EPA estimates that tap water costs consumers about $0.002 per gallon, on
average, nationwide (EPA 2004).
2 EWG compared the prices and capacities of 7 faucet-mounted and pitcher filters. The prices ranged from $19.99 to $39.99 with
treatment capacities ranging from 40 gallons to 100 gallons. With this information, we estimate an average cost of these types of
systems as $0.31 per gallon.
3 EWG compared 5 different whole house carbon filter units and documented prices in the range between $64.99 to $795 per unit, with
life spans between 3 and 36 months. Thus, the annual cost is in the range of $260 - $595 with an average of $375. This leads to an
estimated cost of $1.00/day that translates into $0.25 daily cost per person for an average four-person household.
EWG’s Guide to Safe Drinking Water
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Drinking plenty of good, clean water is important for a healthy body. Read EWG
researchers' top tips to learn how to stay hydrated while cutting down on your
exposures to common drinking water pollutants.
Bottled water
Drink filtered tap water instead. You can read the bottle label, but you still
won’t know if the water is pure and natural, or just processed, polluted,
packaged tap water. EWG found 38 contaminants in 10 popular brands.
Tap water
Learn what’s in it. Tap water suppliers publish all their water quality tests. Bottled water companies
don’t. Read your annual tap water quality report. Look up your city’s water in EWG’s National Tap Water
Atlas. (Private well? Get it tested.)
Filtered tap water
Drink it, cook with it.
Carbon filters (pitcher or tap-mounted) are affordable and reduce many common water
contaminants, like lead and byproducts of the disinfection process used to treat municipal tap
water.
Install a reverse osmosis filter if you can afford it, to remove contaminants that carbon filters
can’t eliminate, like arsenic and perchlorate (rocket fuel).
Filters
Change them. Change your water filters on time. Old filters aren’t safe – they harbor bacteria and let
contaminants through.
On the go
Carry water in safe containers. Hard plastic bottles (#7 plastic) can leach a harmful plastics chemical
called bisphenol A (BPA) into water. Carry stainless steel or other BPA-free bottles. Don’t reuse bottled
water bottles. The plastic can harbor bacteria and break
down to release plastics chemicals.
While Pregnant
Stay hydrated with safe water. It’s especially important for women to drink plenty of water during
pregnancy. Follow all the tips
above, and take your doctor’s advice on how much to drink.
Infants
Use safe water for formula. Use filtered tap water for your baby’s formula. If your water is not
fluoridated, you can use a carbon filter. If it is, use a reverse osmosis filter to remove the fluoride,
because fluoridated water can damage an infant’s developing teeth. If you choose bottled water for
your infant, make sure it’s fluoride-free. Learn more at www.ewg.org/babysafe.
Breathe Easy
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Use a whole house water filter.
For extra protection, a whole house carbon filter will remove
contaminants from steamy vapors you
and your family inhale while showering and washing dishes.
Walmart and Giant Water Exceeds Safety Limits
The Environmental Working Group's bottled water testing turned up a surprise finding: bottled waters
from Walmart (the Sam's Choice brand) and Giant Foods (Acadia brand) showed high levels of
disinfection byproducts (DBPs) known as trihalomethanes, chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects.
These chemicals are common pollutants in municipal tap water.
Walmart’s Sam’s Choice bottled water purchased in the San Francisco bay area was polluted with
disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes at levels that violate the state’s legal limit for
bottled water. These byproducts are linked to cancer and reproductive problems and form when
disinfectants react with residual pollution in the water. The legal limit is 10 parts per billion (ppb)
in bottled water in California (CDPR 2008); Walmart's bottled water purchased in Oakland and
Mountain View contained more than double the limit (21 to 37 ppb). Las Vegas tap water was the
source for these bottles, according to Walmart representatives (EWG 2008).
Also in Walmart’s Sam’s Choice brand, lab tests found a cancer-causing chemical called
bromodichloromethane at levels that exceed safety standards under California’s Safe Drinking
Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65, OEHHA 2008). EWG is filing suit under
this act to ensure that Walmart posts a warning on bottles as required by law: “WARNING: This
product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer." The limit for this
chemical under Proposition 65 is 2.5 ppb, using the state's standard assumptions for water
consumption; levels in Walmart's water from Mountain View and Oakland ranged from 7.7 to 13
ppb.
These same chemicals also polluted Giant's Acadia brand at levels in excess of California’s safety
standards, but this brand is sold only in Mid-Atlantic states where California’s health-based limits
do not hold sway. Nevertheless, disinfection byproducts in both Acadia and Sam’s Choice bottled
water exceeded the industry trade association’s voluntary safety standard (IBWA 2008) of 10 ppb
for trihalomethanes, for samples purchased in 5 states and Washington DC. Acadia water with
levels exceeding the industry's safety limit was purchased in 3 states (Maryland, Delaware and
Virginia) and Washington, DC and was bottled from municipal tap water supplies in Maryland's DC
suburbs, according to the bottle label. The Walmart water was purchased in California and North
Carolina and was bottled from municipal tap water supplies in Las Vegas and Georgia, according to
Walmart representatives (EWG 2008).
Most developed nations have guidelines to control disinfection byproducts in drinking water so as to
minimize consumers' exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals while maintaining adequate
disinfection and control of water-borne bacteria (Richardson 2007). EPA tap water regulations allow
some quantities of these byproducts, which form when residual organic pollutants combine with
chlorine and other water disinfection chemicals. Yet, largely unknown to consumers is the fact that
FDA, the agency charged with overseeing bottled water quality, permits the same level of DBPs in
bottled waters as allowed by the EPA for tap water (FDA 2008b). FDA-sanctioned presence of known
carcinogens in bottled water highlights the woeful insufficiency of federal regulations over bottled
water production. As a result of the FDA's hands-off approach to bottled water standards, quality among
brands and even among different bottles within a single brand varies tremendously. As uncovered by
EWG, while some bottled waters appear to be purified or treated more than tap water, others contain
excessive levels of chemical pollutants.
EWG analysis of bottled waters sold by the Walmart and Giant Foods stores, discovered that every one of
five Acadia brand waters and four out of eleven Sam's Choice brand waters contained d
isinfection
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byproducts, especially trihalomethanes (THMs), such as chloroform and bromodichlorome
thane,
chemicals considered carcinogenic to humans (Richardson 2007) and included as such in the California's
Proposition 65 list (OEHHA 2008). The trihalomethane levels detected in the nine samples are below the
weak and nearly meaningless FDA limit of 80 parts per billion (ppb) for these chemicals in bottled
water. However, all samples exceeded the bottled water industry self-proclaimed maximum level of 10
ppb for total THM contamination, with average trihalomethane levels of 25 ppb in Acadia's brand waters
and 24 ppb in THM-containing Sam's Choice brand waters (Tables 1 and 2). These findings clearly
demonstrate that in the absence of strong, enforceable federal standards, voluntary industry guidelines
do not provide uniform bottled water quality promised to the consumers.
Table 1. Acadia Filtered Drinking Water
Purchase
Location Contaminants
Concentration
Detected in
Bottled Water
Middletown,
DE
Chloroform 25 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 3.7 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 29 ppb
Fluoride 0.91 ppm
Silver Spring,
MD
Chloroform 12 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 1.9 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 14 ppb
Fluoride 0.76 ppm
Stafford, VA
(1)
Chloroform 19 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 2.7 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 22 ppb
Dichloroacetic Acid 2 ppb
Fluoride 0.94 ppm
Stafford, VA
(2)
Chloroform 20 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 3 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 23 ppb
Fluoride 0.87 ppm
Washington,
DC
Chloroform 31 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 4.9 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 36 ppb
Fluoride 1.07 ppm
Table 2. Sam's Choice Purified Drinking Water
Purchase Contaminants Concentration
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Location Detected in
Bottled Water
Mountain
View, CA
Chloroform 15 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 13 ppb
Chlorodibromomethane 8.2 ppb
Bromoform 0.8 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 37 ppb
Oakland, CA
(1)
Chloroform 10 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 8.5 ppb
Chlorodibromomethane 4.2 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 23 ppb
Oakland, CA
(2)
Chloroform 9.6 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 7.7 ppb
Chlorodibromomethane 3.7 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 21 ppb
Fayetteville,
NC
Chloroform 12 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 2.3 ppb
Total Trihalomethanes 14 ppb
Camden, DE Chloroform ND*
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Cromwell, CT Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Columbia, MD Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Stafford, VA Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Portland, OR Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Vancouver,
WA
Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
Los Angeles,
CA
Chloroform ND
Total Trihalomethanes ND
*ND (not detected): samples did not contain these chemicals above detection limits.
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In addition to being more than twice higher than the voluntary standard to which the
bottled water
industry clearly fails to adhere, the detected THM levels exceeded the health-protective limit of 10 ppb
set for THMs in bottled water by the state of California (CDPH 2008). EWG testing raised especial
concerns about Sam's Choice brand water retailed in California. Among the four tested Sam's Choice
bottled waters from California stores, three contained trihalomethanes, and all three were over the 10
ppb CA state limit, with average concentration of 27 ppb.
The mixture of trihalomethanes in California-retailed Sam's Choice waters included chloroform, a known
human carcinogen (NTP 2005) regulated in California under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic
Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). According to the California EPA Office of Environmental
Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), a safety standard for oral exposure to chloroform is at 10 ppb
concentration (OEHHA 2008). The standard is based on the Proposition 65 No Significant Risk Level for
ingested chloroform at 20 micrograms per day. For a water consumption rate of 2 L/day (Title 27,
California Code of Regulations, Article 7, Section § 25721), this corresponds to a 10 ppb concentration of
contaminant in drinking water. The levels of chloroform detected in three out of four Sam's Choice
bottled waters from CA are between 9.6 and 15 ppb, very close to or over this limit. And while this level
of exposure may be tolerated by a healthy person with average daily water consumption, it could pose
greater risks for persons who consume significantly larger quantities of water every day or for
vulnerable subpopulations.
In addition to chloroform, two other trihalomethanes were detected in Sam's Choice waters purchased
in California: bromodichloromethane (average concentration 9.7 ppb) and chlorodibromomethane
(average concentration 5.3 ppb). Acadia's brand contained bromodichloromethane at 3.2 ppb average
concentration. Both bromodichloromethane and chlorodibromomethane are genotoxic and carcinogenic
in animal studies (Richardson 2007). Like chloroform, bromodichloromethane is listed in the California's
Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (OEHHA 2008), with the safety standard of 5 micrograms
per day, corresponding to 2.5 ppb concentration in water. The concentration of bromodichloromethane
in three California samples of Sam's Choice water exceeded this guideline between three and five
times, potentially posing an unacceptable risk to bottled water drinkers.
Why are disinfection byproducts tainting bottled water?
The bottled water industry builds its sales marketing the image of purity and casting doubt on the
quality of tap water, leading bottled water drinkers to believe that they are purchasing a pristine
product with no health risks whatsoever (Doss 2008, Edberg 2008). Less touted by the industry is the fact
that bottled water manufacturers can and do use ordinary municipal tap water supplies to fill up the
bottles (FDA 2008b). After the water has been pumped from the source and treated at taxpayers'
expense, bottled water companies sell it back to the consumers at a vastly increased cost. As uncovered
by the EWG investigation, some bottled waters contain signature tap water pollutants, essentially
defeating consumers' purpose of seeking better water quality.
Under FDA regulations, bottled waters are legally allowed to contain the same quantities and types of
chemical contaminants as public water supplies (FDA2008b). These lax rules for contaminants in bottled
water benefit the most those bottled water suppliers who unscrupulously use taxpayer-supported tap
water supplies to make their products. While FDA requires source labeling for bottled water drawn from
municipal water supplies, manufacturers can avoid mandated disclosure by claiming to use additional
purification (21 CFR 165.110(a)(3); FDA 2008b). To illustrate, the label on the Sam's Choice Purified
Drinking Water purchased in Oakland, CA does not mention the source of water, instead describing the
product as "Purified by reverse osmosis filtration or distillation." Nevertheless, this sample contained 10
ppb chloroform, 8.5 ppb bromodichloromethane, and 23 ppb total trihalomethanes, all in excess of
California state standards (CDPH 2008).
Customer service representatives from Walmart provided EWG researchers with the locations of each
municipal water supply used to fill the bottles EWG tested, matching the printed code number on each
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bottle to their supplier list. This was accomplished through a series of phone calls
between EWG
researchers and representatives on the companies' 1-888 numbers.
EWG investigation of the sources of four THM-containing Sam's Choice waters indicated that in every
case, levels of THMs in the bottled water were close to levels of THMs in the local municipal water
(Table 3). The safety of consumers would have been much better served if the FDA mandated a
complete and unambiguous label disclosure whenever a bottled water has been sourced from tap water.
Such transparent labeling would give the consumers the information to decide whether or not a certain
bottled water best suits their needs.
Table 3. Comparison of Sam's Choice Purified Drinking Water with Local Source Tap Water
Purchase
Location Contaminants
Concentration
Detected in
Bottled Water
Level
(Range)
Detected
in
Municipal
Water
(the
Bottled
Water
Source) in
2007
Mountain
View, CA
Total
Trihalomethanes 37 ppb 51.1 (7.8-
88) ppb1
Fluoride ND 0.78 (0.38-
0.86) ppm
Oakland, CA
(1)
Total
Trihalomethanes 23 ppb 51.1 (7.8-
88)1
Fluoride ND 0.78 (0.38-
0.86)
Oakland, CA
(2)
Total
Trihalomethanes 21 ppb 51.1 (7.8-
88)1
Fluoride ND 0.78 (0.38-
0.86)
Fayetteville,
NC
Total
Trihalomethanes 14 ppb
8 ppb
(range not
available)2
Fluoride ND
1.6
(0.2-1.60
ppm)
1 Las Vegas Valley Water District 2008
2 Blairsville, GA - Notla Water Authority 2008
As demonstrated by the EWG test results, when FDA-approved drinking water purification technologies
are conscientiously applied, complete elimination of trihalomethanes can be achieved. Of the eleven
tested samples of Sam's Choice Purified Drinking Water, seven of them did not contain any
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trihalomethanes. These included Sam's Choice waters purchased in Connecticut, Washing
ton, Oregon,
Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia and in the city of Los Angeles. In contrast, four of the waters from the
same brand - those purchased in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and the cities of Mountain View and
Oakland in California - contained trihalomethanes at levels that exceeded the industry's voluntary limit,
the State of California standard for bottled water and "no significant risk levels" for carcinogens under
Proposition 65. Such a disparity between different bottles from the same brand likely stems from
non-uniform application of purification technologies by the bottlers at different sites, indicating that
brand loyalty may not guarantee the bottled water quality that consumers seek.
EWG also examined the labeling of the Giant Food's Acadia brand of Filtered Drinking Water. This brand
discloses on its label the public water source from which the bottled water was prepared and the
treatment method applied (filtration through activated charcoal). While the Acadia labeling is in
compliance with the letter of the law, it fails to alert the consumers that the bottled water contains
levels of chloroform and other trihalomethanes that are above the industry's voluntary standard of 10
ppb. Overall, the levels of trihalomethanes and fluoride in the five tested samples of Acadia water were
very close to the levels in the local source water (Table 4).
Table 4. Comparison of Acadia Filtered Drinking Water with Local Source Tap Water
Purchase
Location Contaminants
Concentration
Detected in
Bottled Water
Level
(Range)
Detected
in Source
Water in
20071
Middletown,
DE
Total
Trihalomethanes 29 ppb
43.8
(8.44-113)
ppb
Fluoride 0.91 ppm
1.04
(0.52-1.40)
ppm,
0.91
(0.10-1.10)
ppm
Silver
Spring, MD
Total
Trihalomethanes 14 ppb
43.8
(8.44-113)
ppb
Fluoride 0.76 ppm
1.04
(0.52-1.40)
ppm, 0.91
(0.10-1.10)
ppm
Stafford, VA
(1)
Total
Trihalomethanes 22 ppb
43.8
(8.44-113)
ppb
Fluoride 0.94 ppm
1.04
(0.52-1.40)
ppm,
0.91
(0.10-1.10)
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ppm
Stafford, VA
(2)
Total
Trihalomethanes 23 ppb
43.8
(8.44-113)
ppb
Fluoride 0.87 ppm
1.04
(0.52-1.40)
ppm,
0.91
(0.10-1.10)
ppm
Washington,
DC
Total
Trihalomethanes 36 ppb
43.8
(8.44-113)
ppb
Fluoride 1.07 ppm
1.04
(0.52-1.40)
ppm,
0.91
(0.10-1.10)
ppm
1 Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission 2008
In summary, the presence of disinfection byproducts in bottled waters highlights insufficient
government oversight and inappropriate labeling of the bottled water products. As a result of the
hands-off attitude of the FDA and cost-saving shortcuts taken by the industry itself, shoppers remain in
a "Buyer Beware" situation, paying premium prices for bottled water but not getting the anticipated
quality. Consumers could have obtained much better drinking water simply by installing a home tap
water filter at a fraction of the bottled water cost. Consumers' right to know, market fairness, and
individual shoppers' health are all affected by the sales of bottled waters that are no better than tap
water - and vastly more expensive.
Test Results: Chemicals in Bottled Water
Chemical contaminants in drinking water pose a health risk for all of us, although some people may be
more vulnerable to these pollutants than the general population. These more sensitive populations
include infants, the elderly, as well as people with weakened immune systems due to viral infections,
immune disorders, cancer, chemotherapy or recent organ transplants (CDPH 2008; EPA 2005a).
Concerned about tap water quality, some consumers turn to bottled water, hoping to find a guarantee
of safety and quality (Doss 2008; IBWA 2008d). But the reality is very different from this expectation: all
bottled waters tested by EWG contained some chemical contaminants while bottled waters sold by two
national retailers contained signature pollutants at levels very close to water.
Water treatment chemicals: disinfection byproducts and fluoride
Toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs) such as chloroform, bromodichloromethane, and
haloacetic acids, are formed when disinfectants (chlorine, ozone, chlorine dioxide or
chloramine) react with organic matter, urban and agricultural contaminants, bromine,
and iodide during the treatment of drinking water (EPA 2008a). While only eleven
DBPs are currently regulated in the U.S., up to 600 different chemicals may form as
byproducts of disinfection (Richardson 1998, 1999a,b, 2003), including 74 DBPs that
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are not regulated but that may be associated with either DNA damage or
carcinogenicity (Richardson 2007). In 2002, EWG review of DBP health effects found that nearly thirty
peer-reviewed epidemiologic studies linked these byproducts to increased risks of cancer, including up
to 9,300 cases of bladder cancer (reviewed in EWG 2002). DBP exposure may be also associated with
miscarriages or reduced birth weight, a public health risk that is under active investigation (Hoffman
2008; Savitz 2006; Wright 2004). Additional health problems from DBP exposure may include rectal and
colon cancers, kidney and spleen disorders, immune system problems and neurotoxic effects (EPA 2001a;
EPA 2007a; Richardson 2007).
Trihalomethanes — Four chemicals found in EWG bottled water tests are in a group of disinfection
byproducts called trihalomethanes (THMs) - chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and
chlorodibromomethane. Together, these chemicals can be present at the same 80 ppb concentration in
bottled water as the EPA limit for THMs in tap water (EPA 2008b; FDA 2008b). The legal limit of 80 ppb
was set as a compromise between protecting public health and the treatment costs for lowering THM
levels in municipal water (EPA 2007a). This limit still equates to several thousands of bladder cancer
cases nationwide from people ingesting THMs in drinking water (EPA 2001a; EPA 2005b). Various
trihalomethanes were detected in four brands of bottled water, including Sam's Choice and Acadia, at
two to three times greater levels than the bottled water industry's voluntary standard of 10 ppb (IBWA
2008).
During the first round of testing, chloroform was found in four brands at concentrations between 3.8
and 19 ppb. The second round of testing identified samples with up to 31 ppb concentration of
chloroform. Among all THM-containing bottled waters in this study, average concentrations of 15 ppb
chloroform were detected. Both the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the U.S.
National Toxicology Panel (NTP) state that chloroform is "reasonably anticipated to be a human
carcinogen" (NTP 2005). Chloroform is listed as a carcinogen in the California's Safe Drinking Water and
Toxic Enforcement Act (also known as Proposition 65), with safety standards for oral ingestion at 10 ppb
(OEHHA 2008). The primary routes of human exposure to chloroform are ingestion, inhalation, and
dermal contact with water while showering, swimming, cleaning, and cooking, so that practically all
humans are exposed to low levels of the chemical (NTP 2005). Moreover, EPA was forced by a court
order to weaken its health-based goal for chloroform from 0 ppb to 70 ppb as a result of a legal
challenge filed by the Chlorine Chemistry Council and the Chemical Manufacturers Association (now the
American Chemistry Council) (EPA 2008c).
Bromodichloromethane was detected in four brands and the total of eleven samples at concentrations
between 0.6 and 13 ppb, with average of detected values at 4.5 ppb. EPA's Integrated Risk Information
System (IRIS) classifies bromodichloromethane as a probable human carcinogen (EPA 1993) and EPA set a
health-based goal (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal) for this cancer-causing chemical at zero (EPA
2008b). California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act lists 2.5 ppb as a safety standard for
bromodichloromethane, a level that is exceeded by several fold for nine of the eleven THM-containing
bottled waters. Two other THMs, chlorodibromomethane and bromoform, were found in Sam's Choice
brand water, of which three samples contained chlorodibromomethane at concentrations between 3.7
and 8.2 ppb.
Haloacetic acids - Our tests found two water disinfection byproducts called haloacetic acids in bottled
water, dichloroacetic acid and trichloroacetic acid, both at 2 ppb concentration. Haloacetic acids are
genotoxic and carcinogenic; they can also produce significant metabolic disturbances (Robertson 2007).
Both EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider dichloroacetic acid likely to be a
carcinogen in humans (EPA 2003). While the available toxicity data for tricloroacetic acid is more
limited, EPA IRIS assessment for this chemical reports cancer effects in rodents and classifies it as a
possible human carcinogen (EPA 1996). Haloacetic acids are also linked to developmental defects in
embryos grown outside the womb (whole embryo cell culture) (Hunter 1996). Prior to 2002, haloacetic
acids were not regulated in drinking water at all. Now they are regulated as a group of five acids with a
cumulative legal limit of 60 ppb in drinking water, whether tap or bottled (EPA 2008b; FDA 2008b).
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Similar to regulation of THMs in drinking water, the standard for haloacetic acid is
not a health-based
limit. Instead, it balances health and treatment cost by placing a dollar amount of the disease and
equating that to treatment costs, so it still allows illness (EPA 2007a).
Disinfection byproducts were found in 4 brands
Chemical
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
ppb*
Average
of
Detected
Values,
ppb*
Total Trihalomethanes 4 4.4 - 37 21
Chloroform 4 3.8 - 31 15
Bromodichloromethane 4 0.6-13 4.5
Bromoform 1 0.8 0.8
Chlorodibromomethane 1 3.7 - 8.2 5.4
Haloacetic Acids
Dichloroacetic acid 2 2 2
Trichloroacetic acid 1 2 2
*ppb = parts per billion (micrograms per liter)
Fluoride was found in five brands at concentrations between 0.15 and 1.07 ppm (parts per million, same
as mg/L). Fluoride in bottled water may be coming from natural sources or, for the bottled water
brands that use tap water, fluoride may originate from municipal water treatment (FDA 2008b). The
value of fluoride-containing toothpaste to dental health is clear; fluoride is a potent chemical that
strengthens teeth and kills microbes on contact, reducing the incidence of cavities (Hellwig 2004; ten
Cate 1999; Twetman 2003). But, as recently reviewed by the National Research Council (NRC) a
substantial and growing body of peer-reviewed science strongly suggests that ingesting fluoride in
drinking water may present serious health risks (NRC 2006). Children who drink fluoridated water are at
increased risk of developing fluorosis, a defect of the permanent teeth resulting in dark staining and, in
severe cases, substantial corrosion of the enamel (Hong 2006; McDonagh 2000; NRC 2006). The Center
for Disease Control (CDC) stated that about 30% of children who drink fluoridated water have some
degree of fluorosis (Beltran-Aguilar 2005).
Levels of fluoride now detected in bottled water, 0.15-1.07 ppm, are within legal limits (EPA 1989, FDA
2008b), but emerging science suggests that legal limits may not sufficiently protect health, especially
for infants and others who are particularly vulnerable (NRC 2006).
Fluoride was found in 5 brands
Chemical
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
ppm*
Average of
Detected Values,
ppm*
Fluoride 5 0.15-1.07 0.67
*ppm = parts per million (milligrams per liter, mg/L)
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Fertilizer pollution: Nitrate and Ammonia
Nitrate — Nitrate is a fertilizer ingredient that widely pollutes drinking water sources
nationwide. It poses particular risks for infants, who are susceptible to a form of
methemoglobinemia, or blue-baby syndrome, caused by nitrate replacing the oxygen
normally carried by red blood cells (Knobeloch 2000). For babies and small children,
the most common source of nitrate exposure is from infant formula, when it is mixed
with well water (Kross 1992).
Nitrate was found in six brands, at concentrations between 0.1 - 1.7 ppm, with average level (among
the six positive brands) of 0.5 ppm. Although nitrate levels detected in bottled water are below the
legal limit of 10 ppm, this limit provides no margin of safety for infants. According to EPA, infants below
the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the drinking water standard could
become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die (EPA 2001b). Moreover, studies of infants in Europe have
found that three to four percent of methemoglobinemia cases in infants occur at even lower levels,
below the legal limit (Sattelmacher 1964; Simon 1962). Additionally, exposure to nitrates in drinking
water for pregnant women has been linked to possible adverse reproductive and developmental effects
(Manassaram 2006). While the spectrum of nitrate-associated adverse health outcomes remains a subject
of active research, a 2006 review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists
summarized nine different epidemiologic studies conducted between 1982 and 2004 that observed
nervous system defects, miscarriage, premature birth, impaired growth of babies in utero, and various
birth defects linked to higher nitrate levels in drinking water (Manassaram 2006).
Nitrate pollution is also associated with potential endocrine-disrupting effects. Emerging science
suggests that nitrate derived from agricultural run-off is capable of disrupting the functioning of thyroid
hormones and reproductive hormones, thus contributing to the overall environmental load of endocrine
disrupting chemicals to which humans and animals are exposed (Edwards 2006; Guillette & Edwards
2005; Guillette 2006; Hotchkiss 2008; McDaniel 2008).
Ammonia — One bottled water brand contained ammonia at 0.12 ppm concentration. Ammonia enters
water from fertilizer runoff, leaching septic tanks, and erosion of natural deposits. It is also commonly
found in household cleaners. Whether present as an ingredient in cleaners or as a pollutant in tap
water, ammonia volatilizes into the air; people are exposed primarily by breathing it in. Ammonia
triggers asthma attacks in some people and at high levels of exposure it is linked to a broader range of
health problems (Makarovsky 2008). According to a 2004 government review: "We do not know if
exposure to ammonia causes birth defects, or if it can pass to the fetus across the placenta or to infants
via breast milk" (ATSDR 2004).
Fertilizer Pollution was found in 6 brands
Chemical
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
ppm*
Average of
Detected
Values, ppm*
Nitrate
(Nitrogen as
N)
6 0.1 - 1.7 0.51
Ammonia
(Nitrogen as
N)
1 0.12 0.12
*ppm = parts per million (milligrams per liter, mg/L)
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Drugs
Over the past two years, investigations all around the country found a variety of
pharmaceutical residues in streams, lakes, and in drinking water (Kolpin 2002; EPA
2008d). Pharmaceuticals routinely taken by people are not fully absorbed by our
bodies, and are excreted and passed first into wastewater and then into surface
water. Similarly, medical waste and disposal of unused pharmaceuticals down the
drain can add to the load of pharmaceuticals in surface waters (EPA 2008e). Drugs in
the environment pose grave ecological risks; they also end up in our drinking water
supplies (Hawthorne 2008; Mendoza 2008). EPA has yet to determine what risks to human health may be
posed by pharmaceuticals in drinking water, especially for vulnerable subpopulations such as fetuses,
infants, and those with weakened immune system (Daughton 2004). Meanwhile, these potential risks
cannot be currently dismissed.
Acetaminophen - Shoppers concerned about pharmaceuticals in tap water may consider turning to
bottled water as a supposedly safer alternative. However, EWG analysis detected acetaminophen
(Tylenol) in two bottled water brands at levels similar to what has been found in tap water in Chicago
and Philadelphia (AP 2008; Hawthorne 2008). The concentrations in bottled water are below the
average therapeutic dosage; however, effects of life-long, constant exposure to this levels of
acetaminophen are not known.
Caffeine pollution of rivers and streams has become so wide-spread that U.S. Geological Survey and
Department of Agriculture researchers consider it to be a key indicator for water contaminated by
urban waste (Focazio 2008; Moore 2008). An article on the FDA website describes consumer perception
that bottled water contains no caffeine, no calories and no sugar (Bullers 2002). And while the last two
claims are generally true, the first one is not - EWG testing revealed an unexpected presence of
caffeine residues in bottled water. The caffeine levels detected in bottled water are very close to those
found in untreated sources of drinking water and in tap water (Focazio 2008; Grumbles 2008; Hawthorne
2008). Although these levels pose no health concern, being many times below what is found in a cup of
coffee or a can of soda (Grumbles 2008), they do indicate likely exposure of the bottled water source to
urban wastewater and various other contaminants associated with it.
Drugs and drug breakdown products were found in 3 brands
Chemical
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
ppt*
Average
of
Detected
Values,
ppt*
Acetaminophen 2 1.1 - 1.3 1.2
Caffeine 1 51 51
1,7-Dimethylxanthine
(breakdown product of
caffeine)
1 10 10
*ppt = parts per trillion (nanograms per liter)
Synthetic chemicals used in chemical industry and in plastic production: Acetaldehyde, Isobutane,
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nonanoic acid, toluene
Nine brands contained plastic/industrial synthetic chemicals, for a total of twenty-two
chemicals, between one and four detections for each. Ten chemicals were detected
once, four were detected twice, five chemicals were present in three brands
(2-methyl-1-propene, 3-methyl pentane, isobutane, methylcyclopentane, octane) and
hexane, toluene and acetaldehyde were present in four brands each.
How do plastic/industrial synthetic chemicals end up in bottled water? From the
moment of production at the manufacturing plant and until the time of consumption, bottled water is
exposed to a wide variety of plastic chemicals that leach from packaging. The main type of packaging
for bottled water is polyethylene terephthalate or PET, identified by recycling code 1. Besides the PET
polymer, plastic packaging for bottled water also contains a variety of additives, catalyst chemicals that
are involved in plastic synthesis process, chemicals that impart physical stability and resistance to
packaging, sunscreen chemicals that protect the bottle from discoloration caused by exposure to UV
light, and odor-scavenger substances that eliminate the smells associated with chemicals leaching from
plastic. The FDA Inventory of Effective Food Contact Substance Notifications lists 23 different chemical
products or mixes that may be legally added to PET plastics for bottled water packaging (FDA 2008d).
Upon long-term storage, some of these chemicals could potentially leach from the plastic into the
bottled water itself.
Acetaldehyde is one of the most common contaminants released from PET bottles during overheating or
any type of thermal degradation (Cwiek-Ludwicka 2003; Darowska 2003; Eberhartinger 1990; Monarca
1994; Nawrocki 2002). EWG testing detected acetaldehyde in four bottled water brands, in the range of
0.6 - 36 ppb. Inhaled acetaldehyde poses a risk for genetic mutations and cancer, and it is classified by
the EPA IRIS as a probable human carcinogen (EPA 1991). Acetaldehyde ingestion causes adverse health
effects ranging from irritation of the digestive tract to liver damage (NAS 1995). Despite these health
concerns, FDA has not established a legal limit for acetaldehyde in bottled water.
Hexane, another industrial chemical for which no drinking water standards have been established, was
found in four brands. Nationwide tap water analyses conducted by EWG showed that 69 public water
suppliers in four states were contaminated with hexane (EWG 2005b). Hexane has been associated with
potential health impacts including developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity,
respiratory toxicity, and skin sensitivity (EPA 2005c).
Toluene was detected in four brands. Toluene is a petroleum-derived industrial chemical and a solvent
for paints, paint thinners, silicone sealants, rubber, printing ink, adhesives (glues), lacquers, leather
tanners, and disinfectants (ATSDR 2000). As a result of its extensive use, toluene contaminates water
supplies nationwide, so that 31.8 million people in 1,009 communities drank water contaminated with
toluene (EWG 2005b). The presence of toluene in drinking water presents a significant public health
risk, since health impacts associated with toluene include cardiovascular or blood toxicity,
developmental toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, immunotoxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity,
reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and skin sensitivity (EPA 2005d). EPA established a limit for
toluene in drinking water at 1 ppm (mg/L), which was adopted by the FDA as a standard for bottled
water (FDA 2008b). Although the toluene levels detected in our study were significantly lower than the
legal limit, they highlight the issue that surface and ground water nationwide has been contaminated
with industrial chemicals. The only reliable, long-term solution to water quality problems is cleaning up
our water supplies and making sure that drinking water sources are protected from chemical pollution.
Synthetic chemicals were found in 9 brands
Chemical
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
ppb*
Average of
Detected
Values,
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ppb*
Acetaldehyde 4 0.6 - 36 9.7
Hexane 4 0.2 - 0.8 0.55
Toluene 4 0.5 - 2.9 1.5
2-Methyl-1-propene 3 0.3 - 0.6 0.47
3-Methyl pentane 3 0.3 - 0.8 0.47
Isobutane 3 2.3 - 13.3 7
Methylcyclopentane 3 0.7 - 1.3 0.9
Octane 3 0.2 - 4 1.7
3-Methyl heptane 2 0.4 - 0.6 0.5
Cyclohexane 2 0.4 - 1.3 0.73
Decane 2 0.6 - 1.5 0.93
Heptadecane 2 0.3 - 1.2 0.75
(Z)-13-
Docosenamide 1 1.2 1.2
1-Hexene 1 0.2 0.2
Hexadecanamide 1 0.7 0.7
Hexadecane 1 0.5 0.5
Methyl
cyclopentane 1 1.3 1.3
Naphthalene 1 0.3 0.3
Nonadecane 1 0.4 0.4
Nonanoic acid 1 0.4 0.4
o-Hydroxybiphenyl 1 1.0 1.0
Tetrachloroethene 1 0.5 0.5
* ppb = parts per billion (micrograms per liter)
Bacterial contamination
Four brands had some bacterial contamination, as detected by either total coliform
count or heterotrophic plate count (HPC). One brand had particularly high background
bacterial levels measured by HPC at 480 Colony-Forming Units (CFU) per milliliter,
almost at the EPA's recommended limit of 500 CFU/ml for tap water (EPA 2008c).
Although the presence of bacteria detected by the HPC method does not give a direct
indication of potential risk for water-borne diseases, it is a measure of overall
bacterial contamination that occurs during bottle water production. High HPC signal
could indicate unsanitary conditions at the bottled water plant or bottled water collection site, possibly
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associated with dirty equipment. According to EPA, "the lower the concentration of ba
cteria in drinking
water, the better maintained the water system is" (EPA 2008c).
In addition to heterotrophic plate count, one brand was also positive for total coliform, which could
indicate potential exposure of the bottled water sources to fecal contamination (FDA 2008c). While
ground water is believed to contain less microbiological pollution compared to surface water, with the
increased anthropogenic pressure on the environment, ground water frequently becomes tainted with
bacteria from wastewater (EPA 2006). Potential sources of subsurface fecal contamination include
improperly stored or managed manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms),
runoff from land-applied manure, leaking sewer lines or failed septic systems, as well as entry of
surface contaminants into the well due to improper construction or maintenance. FDA has recently
proposed a new set of rules for improved monitoring of bacterial contamination in the sources used for
bottled water production (FDA 2008c). However, these new rules would merely bring bottled water
regulations in line with the EPA tap water regulations, so that standards for microbiological safety of
bottled water would be at least no worse than tap water standards. And currently, all consumers can
hope for is voluntary monitoring by the bottled water industry itself.
Bacterial contamination was found in 4 brands
Bacterial Type
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections
Average of
Detected
Values
Heterotrophic
Plate Count 41-480
CFU*/mL 121 CFU/mL
Total Coliform 11
MPN**/100mL 1 MPN/100mL
*CFU, colony-forming units; **MPN, most probable number of microorganisms.
Arsenic
Arsenic was found in one brand, at 1 ppb concentration. Arsenic is a metal that enters water by erosion
of natural deposits, as well as industrial runoff. Inorganic arsenic has potent pesticide properties and is
very toxic to people upon ingestion or inhalation. Potential health impacts associated with arsenic
include cancer, cardiovascular or blood toxicity, developmental toxicity, endocrine toxicity,
gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory
toxicity, and skin sensitivity (EPA 1998). In 2005, EWG investigation revealed that 90 million Americans
in 38 states were served tap water contaminated with arsenic at levels above health-based limits
between 1998 and 2003 (EWG 2005b). The FDA bottled water regulations allow the presence of arsenic
up to 10 ppb concentration (FDA 2008b). However, considering that arsenic is a known human
carcinogen, bottled water companies should ensure that their products be completely free from this
dangerous pollutant. Nevertheless, the voluntary bottled water industry code allows arsenic
contamination at 10 ppb levels (IBWA 2008a), a far cry from the industry claim to have internal
guidelines that are more strict than the federal regulations.
Radioactive pollutants
Radioactivity — Gross beta particle radioactivity was detected in seven brands with
average level of 3.7 pCi/L (picoCuries/liter). In humans and animals exposure to
radioactivity causes a wide range of health effects, including lung, bone, liver, kidney
and brain tumors, leukemia, skin damage, and blood damage. Two specific
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radiological contaminants were detected in bottled waters tested, Radium-228 and
Strontium-90, and both are known cancer-causing elements. Radium-228 occurs
naturally and is usually found around uranium deposits, while Strontium-90 is a
radioactive pollutant from nuclear fallout and possibly weapons and power production. FDA regulations
for radiological contaminants in bottled water allow the presence of gross beta radioactivity at levels
not to exceed 4 millirems per year of human exposure (equivalent to 50 pCi/L (IBWA 2008a)) and the
presence of Radium (Radium 226 and 228 combined) up to 5 pCi/L (FDA 2008b). While radiological
contaminants detected in bottled water are below this legal limit, there is no level of radioactivity
known to be without risk.
Radioactivity contamination was found in 7 brands
Radioactivity
Type
Number
of
Brands
Range of
Detections,
pCi/L*
Average of
Detected
Values, pCi/L
Gross Beta 7 1.8-5.8 3.7
Radium-228 1 0.6 +/- 0.7 0.6 +/- 0.7
Strontium-90 1 0.5 +/- 0.4 0.5 +/- 0.4
*pCi/L = picoCuries/liter
Boron
Boron was found in two brands, at 60 and 90 ppb (microgram/L) concentrations. Boron gets into drinking
water from naturally-occurring and human sources. Contamination of water can come directly from
urban and industrial wastewater and indirectly from soil runoff. People are exposed to this element
with both water and food, since boron can be naturally found in some plants. Boron typically combines
with oxygen to form various boron compounds that can contaminate drinking water. Boron is an
unregulated chemical with no limits established by the EPA, although the World Health Organization,
noting potential link between discharge of municipal sewage effluent and boron contamination,
published a provisional guideline value for boron at 0.5 mg/L (WHO 2003). In animal studies, ingestion
of boron has been linked with toxicity to male reproductive tract (testicular lesions) and developmental
toxicity (WHO 2003). Boron has been listed in drinking water Contaminant Candidate Lists 1 and 2,
which is a list of priority contaminants for which drinking water standards are urgently needed (EPA
2008f). For a decade, EPA vacillated on issuing tap water regulations for boron (EPA 2008f), even though
the Agency acknowledges that lifetime ingestion of boron and boron compounds can increase the health
effect risk for the fetuses of pregnant women and the testes of males (EPA 2008g). While the boron
concentration found in this study are below the WHO levels, our finding highlights that adequate
purification methods are not applied to water before bottling.
Conclusion: bottled water tainted with a mix of chemical pollutants from different sources
EWG investigation found chemical contamination in all bottled waters tested. The quality of the
samples varied significantly, with some bottled waters exposing consumers to unexpectedly high
pollution load. EWG study highlighted that weak FDA regulations are unable to ensure bottled water
quality that consumers expect. Bottled water is not a miracle product - it is subjected to the same
environmental contamination pressures as tap water. In the information provided by the EPA,
Whether it travels through a pipe to your home or comes packaged in a bottle... all our
drinking water comes from similar sources, either from sources we can see, such as rivers
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and lakes, or from sources we can't see, such as underground aquifers (EPA 2005a).
Bottled water is not an answer to the search for drinking water free of chemical pollutants. Instead,
protection of source water quality and better tap water treatment strategies are urgently needed to
ensure that all Americans will continue to have access to safe and healthy water.
Is FDA Able to Ensure Bottled Water Quality?
Under FDA's bottled water regulations, bottled water is not required to be any safer than tap water. In
fact, the chemical pollution standards are identical, with the sole exception of lead, for which FDA
limits are stricter than the EPA limits (FDA 2008b; FDA 2002). Moreover, the current microbiological
standards are weaker for bottled water compared to tap water (FDA 2008c).
When it comes to bottled water, FDA largely takes a hands-off approach. As stated on the FDA website,
"bottled water plants generally are assigned low priority for inspection" (FDA 2002). Moreover, firms that
use a public water system for their bottled water production may rely on public water system testing
results instead of conducting their own independent testing, while other bottlers may reduce the
frequency of their testing, as well as the number of chemical contaminants for which they test by
obtaining a state-issued waiver (Title 21 CFR 129.35(a)(4)(i-ii)). As a result of weak standards and
insufficient oversight, bottled water can be contaminated with various chemical and bacterial
pollutants. Unfairly, consumers are left in the dark about these quality problems, since, unlike the
municipal water companies, bottled water companies are not required to make public their water
testing results. And many drinking water contaminants are unregulated - any level is legal.
Current FDA regulation of microbiological contaminants in bottled water is particularly embarrassing;
the standards do not even specify which microorganisms should be tested or what levels of source water
contamination will make it unfit for bottling (Title 21 CFR 129.35(a)(3)(i)). Finished bottled water
products must be tested for total coliform; however, FDA allows up to 9.2 coliform organisms in 100 ml
of bottled water (21 CFR 165.110(b)(2)). Recently, FDA proposed a rule to make microbiological quality
standards for bottled water sources as strict as the EPA standards for tap water (FDA 2008c). Although it
would serve as a much needed step to protect public health, the new rule would not guarantee that
bottled water is safer than tap water. Instead, the only enforcement mechanism would be a
requirement that a bottled water drawn from contaminated sources or tainted with microbiological
contaminants carry a label with a statement of substandard quality. According to FDA: "A statement of
substandard quality only prevents bottled water that exceeds an allowable level for a contaminant from
being misbranded... it does not prevent the water from being adulterated" (FDA 2008c). Given the
history of inappropriate labeling and lack of full disclosure by the bottled water industry, this rule does
not seem sufficient to guarantee bottled water quality for consumers.
How can consumers know whether they are purchasing a reliable product or paying up a premium for
over-priced tap water packaged in a questionable plastic bottle? Under Title 21 of the Code of Federal
Regulations, bottlers are obligated to list on the label the type of bottled water and, for bottled water
sourced from a public water system, the label must disclose that fact (21 CFR 165.110(a)(3)). However,
this requirement can be circumvented by the bottlers. Simply by using water that has been "purified",
"deionized" or "distilled", bottlers are free from legal obligation to disclose the tap water origin of their
product (FDA 2008b). As a result, our health is left at risk - and manufacturers who wish to cut corners
and neglect appropriate treatment of water before bottling can easily do so.
Voluntary industry standards claim to be more protective than the FDA regulations (Doss 2008; IBWA
2008b). However, precisely since these standards are voluntary, there is no monitoring or enforcement
mechanism in place. As a result, many bottled waters tested by EWG contained levels of disinfection
by-products more than twice higher than the industry self-proclaimed voluntary standard. Voluntary
compliance or, more frequently, lack of such, cannot substitute for appropriate government regulations
that will protect the health of people and the environment.
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In summary, FDA needs to close the loophole that allows bottlers to avoid disclosing
municipal sources of
their waters. FDA also needs to set adequate, enforceable standards that will guarantee quality and
safety of bottled water. Finally, in order to continue enjoying good, healthy, and tasty drinking water
for years to come, we urgently need to invest into protection of ambient waters, the sources of our
drinking water, and the infrastructure that delivers water to our homes. All Americans deserve to have
access to good quality drinking water, with full disclosure of its sources, treatment, and potential
presence of chemical contaminants. Otherwise, marketing the image of purity and not delivering on the
promise leaves bottled water drinkers at risk.
Recommendations
The commercial success of bottled water in the US has been driven in part by concerns over tap water
quality. And while drinking pure water is a healthy choice, bottled water is not the answer. Our study
shows that bottled water is polluted with a range of contaminants, including many of the same chemical
pollutants typical in municipal tap water supplies. The only effective long-term solution to ensure the
safety of drinking water supplies across the country is protection and cleanup of our rivers, streams, and
ground water from pollution.
Policy Recommendations
FDA should hold the bottled water industry to the same standard of transparency that our water
utilities must meet in terms of where the water comes from, how it's treated, and the residual
pollution it contains. Citizens have a right to know this basic information about the bottled water
that they are purchasing.
Policy-makers should expand resources dedicated to protecting rivers, streams and ground water
that serve as drinking water supplies. This is the only fail-safe way to ensure clean, safe tap water
across the country.
What can consumers do?
Drink filtered tap water
Some reports show that up to 44 per cent of bottled water is just tap water – filtered in some cases
and untreated in others (O'Rourke, 2008). It has also been noted that bottled water can cost up to
10,000 times more than tap water (Earth Policy Institute, 2006). A carbon filter, whether tap
mounted or the pitcher variety, costs a manageable $0.31 per gallon, and removes many of the
contaminants found in public tap water supplies, therefore rendering the water just as good as, if
not better than, most brands of bottled water.
Forgo the plastic bottles
Plastic additives, many of which have not been fully assessed for safety, have been shown to
migrate from the bottles into bottled water to be consumed (Nawrocki 2002). EWG recommends
that consumers use a stainless steel bottle filled with filtered tap water to avoid these potentially
harmful contaminants.
Consumers can urge policymakers to improve and adequately fund source water protection
programs
The only long-term solution to our water problem is a clean water supply. This can only be
achieved if policymakers enforce more stringent source water protection programs to ensure that
our rivers, streams, and groundwater are adequately protected from industrial, agricultural, and
urban pollution.
All Test Results
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Click here
to see detailed results for follow-up testing on Walmart's Sam's Choice brand and Gi
ant's
Acadia brand.
Brand 1 (Woodstock GA)#
Contaminant Concentration
Total Trihalomethanes 4.4 ppb
Chloroform 3.8 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 0.6 ppb
Dichloroacetic Acid 2 ppb
Fluoride 0.55 ppm
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 0.1 ppm
Ammonia Nitrogen as N 0.12 ppm
Isobutane* 4.5 ppb
Strontium-90 0.5 +/- 0.4 pCi/L
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Gross Beta 2.4 +/-0.7 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 32 ppm
Brand 2 (Washington DC)#
Contaminant Concentration
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 0.23 ppm
Acetaldehyde 23 ppb
Radium-228 0.6 +/- 0.7 pCi/L
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Gross Beta 1.9 +/- 0.7 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 46 ppm
Brand 3 (Silver Spring MD)#
Contaminant Concentration
Acetaldehyde 20 ppb
Nonanoic acid* 0.4 ppb
Hexadecanamide* 0.7 ppb
3-Methyl pentane* 0.3 ppb
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Hexane* 0.5 ppb
Methylcyclopentane* 0.8 ppb
Cyclohexane* 0.4 ppb
3-Methyl heptane* 0.4 ppb
Octane* 3.3 ppb
Decane* 0.7 ppb
Brand 4 (Silver Spring MD)#
Contaminant Concentration
Fluoride 0.26 ppm
Total Arsenic 1 ppb
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 0.25 ppm
Toluene 1.2 ppb
3-Methyl pentane* 0.8 ppm
Hexane* 0.8 ppm
Methylcyclopentane* 1.3 ppm
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Heterotrophic Plate Count 480 CFU/ml
Gross Beta 4.4 +/- 0.8 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 210 ppm
Brand 5 (Cloverly MD)#
Contaminant Concentration
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 0.13 ppm
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Heterotrophic Plate Count 1 CFU/ml
Gross Beta 1.8 +/- 0.6 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 20 ppm
Brand 6 (Columbia MD)#
Contaminant Concentration
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Fluoride 0.15 ppm
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 0.67 ppm
Acetaldehyde 36 ppb
1-Hexene* 0.2 ppb
Hexane* 0.2 ppb
Octane* 0.2 ppb
Acetaminophen 1.3 ppb
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Total Dissolved Solids 46 ppm
Brand 7 (Oakland CA)#
Contaminant Concentration
Total Trihalomethanes 23 ppb
Chloroform 10 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 8.5 ppb
Chlorodibromomethane 4.2 ppb
Acetaldehyde 11 ppb
3-Methyl pentane* 0.3 ppb
Hexane* 0.7 ppb
Methylcyclopentane* 0.7 ppb
Cyclohexane* 0.5 ppb
3-Methyl heptane* 0.6 ppb
Octane* 4 ppb
Decane* 0.6 ppb
Total Boron 0.09 ppm
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Heterotrophic Plate Count 2 CFU/ml
Gross Beta 4.3 +/- 0.7 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 18 ppm
Brand 8 (Oakland CA)#
Contaminant Concentration
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Total Trihalomethanes 5.3 ppb
Chloroform 4.6 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 0.7 ppb
Toluene 2.2 ppb
Isobutane* 3.8 ppb
2-Methyl-1-propene* 0.6 ppb
Naphthalene* 0.3 ppb
Nonadecane* 0.4 ppb
Heptadecane* 1.2 ppb
Hexadecane* 0.5 ppb
Acetaminophen 1.1 ppt
Total Boron 0.06 ppm
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Total Coliform 1 MPN/100 ml
Heterotrophic Plate Count 1 CFU/ml
Brand 9 (Oakland CA)#
Contaminant Concentration
Fluoride 0.55 ppm
Toluene 2.9 ppb
Heptadecane* 0.3 ppb
2-Methyl-1-propene* 0.5 ppb
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Gross Beta 5.8 +/- 0.8 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 22 ppm
Brand 10 (Stafford VA)#
Contaminant Concentration
Total Trihalomethanes 22 ppb
Chloroform 19 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 2.7 ppb
Dichloroacetic Acid 2 ppb
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Trichloroacetic Acid 2 ppb
Fluoride 0.94 ppm
Nitrate Nitrogen as N 1.7 ppm
o-Hydroxybiphenyl* 1 ppb
(Z)-13-Docosenamide* 1.2 ppb
Isobutane* 2.3 ppb
2-Methyl-1-propene* 0.3 ppb
Caffeine 51 ppt
1,7-Dimethylxanthine 10 ppt
Other water quality indicator parameters Concentration
Gross Beta 5.1 +/- 1.5 pCi/L
Total Dissolved Solids 160 ppm
#Locations where each brand of bottled was purchased.
*These chemicals were identified in a broad GC/MS scan that matched peaks observed in the test to a large, standard
chemical library; concentrations listed are approximate estimates determined by the analytical lab.
Methodology
Introduction
The University of Iowa’s Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) analyzed samples of ten popular brands of bottled
water for a broad array of contaminants ranging from chemicals regulated in tap water to chemicals
that may have leached from the plastic bottles themselves. The University of Missouri also conducted
bioassays on samples of the same brands in order to identify any estrogenic activity. The information
below describes the components of this study, detailing the water sampling procedures, the analytical
methods, and the quality assurance and quality control provisions included in the study design.
Bottled Water sample acquisition
Environmental Working Group (EWG) acquired samples of ten brands of bottled water from grocery
stores and other retailers in 8 states and the District of Columbia. For each of the ten brands, EWG
shipped 24 liters (or 6 gallons) to the University Hygienic Laboratory (Iowa City, IA) and 0.5 liters to the
University of Missouri (Columbia, MO).
Analysis of Estrogenic Activity
The University of Missouri performed an estrogen-dependent cell proliferation assay in a 96-well robotic
format to determine if there was any estrogenic activity associated with any of the bottled water
samples. Using the Tomtec robotics unit, the laboratory seeded MCF-7 cells in 96-well plates and
allowed them to adapt for 3 days in culture. Then, the cells were incubated for 4 days with extracts
from water samples as well as a serial dilution of estrogen standards (i.e., bisphenol A). At the end of
the 4-day exposure, the medium was removed and assayed for DNA, which was used to calculate the
number of cells present.
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Analysis of Pharmaceuticals, Antibiotics, Ingredients of Personal Care Products (LC/M
S/MS)
UHL developed a method for analyzing pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and common personal care product
ingredients used for this study. Samples were first prepared in accordance with UHL's PHARMA LC-1
methodology. Following this, as detailed by the testing method, ammonium carbonate was added to 100
mL samples of each brand of bottled water to increase their pH. The samples were then passed through
a preconditioned Water Oasis HLB SPE column to extract the test analytes. Ethyl acetate was used to
wash the analytes from the SPE column; this solvent was later removed from the samples. 0.1 mL of
acetonitrile was then added to the samples, which were analyzed using LC/MS/MS.
Analysis of Fluoride (SM 4500-F C)
For each brand, a 4 mL sample was prepared and tested for fluoride in accordance with the standard
methodology for testing water and wastewater (Standard Method SM 4500-F C). A buffer was added to
the samples and concentration measurements were conducted using a fluoride electrode and a standard
reference electrode.
Analysis of Ammonia (SM 4500-NH3 B, LAC10-107-06-1J)
For the analysis of ammonia, UHL scientists prepared 100 mL samples from each brand of bottled water
using standard methodology SM 4500-NH3 B. They then determined the ammonia concentration in the
samples using method LAC10-107-06-1J. In accordance with this methodology, alkaline phenol and
sodium hypochlorite were added to the samples, and sodium nitroprusside (nitroferricyanide) was added
to the mixture to increase detection sensitivity. The absorbance of the reaction product was measured
at 630 nm. This absorbance is directly proportional to the original ammonia concentration in the sample.
Analysis of Volatile Contaminants (GC/MS, EPA 524.2)
UHL prepared and tested bottled water samples for volatile contaminants in accordance with the
Environmental Protection Agency’s methodology (EPA 524.2). The target contaminants included six
chemicals detected in this study - four different trihalomethanes, acetaldehyde and toluene. Following
sample preparation, inert gas was bubbled through 25 mL samples, trapping volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) with low water solubility in a tube containing suitable sorbent materials. Once the purging
process was complete, the tube was heated and backflushed with helium to desorb the trapped
compounds into a capillary gas chromatography (GC) column. The contaminant concentrations were
measured from the trap using GC/MS. The laboratory also utilized the GC/MS to identify other
non-target compounds that were present in the samples.
Analysis of Nitrate (EPA 300.0)
Using EPA methodology (EPA 300.0), the laboratory prepared and tested water samples for nitrate. In
accordance with the methodology, a 100 uL aliquot of the samples were introduced into an Ion
Chromatograph device. The ions of interest were separated and their concentrations measured using a
system comprised of a guard column, a separator column, a suppressor device and a conductivity
detector.
Analysis of Haloacetic Acids (EPA 552.2)
Using EPA methodology (EPA 552.2), the laboratory prepared and tested 40 mL samples of each of the
bottled water brands for haloacetic acids (HAAs). The samples were acidified to a pH of less than 0.5
with concentrated sulfuric acid. The acidified samples were extracted with 4 mL of methyl-tert-butyl
ether (MTBE). Acidic methanol was then added and the samples were slightly heated. The samples were
neutralized by back extraction with a saturated solution of sodium bicarbonate, and a capillary gas
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chromatography system equipped with an electron capture detector (ECD) was used to id
entify and
measure the target analytes.
Analysis of Extractable Contaminants (GC/MS, EPA 525.2)
An EPA-approved methodology (EPA 525.2) was used to analyze the bottled water for extractable
contaminants. Organic analytes were extracted from 1 L samples of water with a liquid-solid extraction
(LSE) method, in which the samples were passed through a cartridge coated with a solid matrix
containing a chemically bonded C18 organic phase. The organic compounds were extracted from the LSE
cartridge by washing it with small quantities of ethyl acetate, followed by methylene chloride. The
extract was dried and concentrated to a volume of 1 mL. Analysts then separated, measured and
identified chemical contaminants using GC/MS.
Analysis of Heterotrophic Plate Count (HPC) (SM 9215B)
UHL prepared and tested the bottled water samples for heterotrophic bacteria using standard
methodology SM 9215B. In accordance with this methodology, 1 mL of each sample was diluted with
phosphate buffer and pipetted onto heterotrophic plate count media which was then incubated at 35
degrees Celsius for 48 hours. At the end of the incubation period, the number of bacterial colonies
formed was noted.
Analysis of Total Coliform (MMO-MUG, SM 9223)
UHL used standard methodology SM 9223 to analyze the bottled water samples for total coliform.
Colilert reagent was added to 100 mL of each sample and the mixture was incubated at 35 degrees
Celsius for 24 hours. After incubation, the samples were examined for a color change and total coliform
was recorded as most probably number (MPN).
Procedures for quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC)
UHL conducted all analyses in accordance with their stringent QA/QC program. For all methods, they
ran an initial calibration with pre-set laboratory sample matrices, and also performed continuing
calibrations during sample runs. Each analysis included a method blank and a control sample with
defined concentration, as appropriate for each specific methodology.
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Harmful Chemicals Found in Bottled Water
Walmart Sam’s Choice Brand Exceeds Legal Limits in California
WASHINGTON (October 15, 2008) – Ten popular U.S. bottled water brands contain mixtures of 38
different pollutants, including bacteria, fertilizer, Tylenol and industrial chemicals, some at levels no
better than tap water, according to laboratory tests recently conducted by Environmental Working
Group (EWG).
Walmart‘s Sam’s Choice at several locations contained contaminants exceeding California’s bottled
water quality standards and safety levels for carcinogens under the state’s Safe Drinking Water and
Toxic Enforcement Act. Giant Food’s Acadia brand consistently retained the high levels of cancer-
causing chlorination byproducts found in the suburban Washington DC tap water from which it is made.
Overall, the test results strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted.
“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.
Americans paid $12 billion to drink 9 billion gallons of bottled water last year alone. Yet, as EWG tests
show, several bottled waters bore the chemical signature of standard municipal water treatment -- a
cocktail of fluoride, chlorine and other disinfectants whose proportions vary only slightly from plant to
plant. In other words, some bottled water was chemically almost indistinguishable from tap water. The
only striking difference: the price tag. The typical cost of a gallon of bottled water is $3.79 – 1,900
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times the cost of a gallon of public tap water.
Unlike public water utilities, bottled water companies are not required to notify their customers of the
presence of contaminants in the water, or, in most states, to tell their customers where the water
comes from, how it is purified, and if it is spring water or merely bottled tap water. Given the industry's
refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in the purity
of bottled water is simply not justified.
The bottle water industry has also contributed to one of the biggest environmental problems facing the
world today. Only one-fifth of the bottles produced by the industry are recycled. The remaining
four-fifths pile up at landfills, litter our neighborhoods and foul our oceans. About halfway between
Hawaii and California, an area twice the size of Texas is awash in millions of plastic water bottles and
other indestructible garbage.
###
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to
protect human health and the environment.
Source URL:
http://www.ewg.org/reports/bottledwater
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... The authors employed a sensitive in vitro bioassay to characterize the total estrogenic burden leaching from plastics, including potential mixture effects and unidentified EDCs. Using a similar approach, a series of studies reported a widespread estrogenic contamination of commercially available bottled water [12,13,14,15,16,17]. Another study adds to the picture by presenting new findings on androgenic, antiandrogenic, progestagenic, and glucocorticoid-like activity in bottled water [16]. ...
... An increasing number of in vitro studies reports the presence of EDCs in bottled water [12,13,14,15,17]. With previous studies focusing on estrogenicity, the present work provides evidence for an additional contamination with steroid receptor antagonists. ...
... scenarios produce false-negative results and might explain the inability to detect endocrine activity in bottled water [18]. From a broader perspective, bottled water from six different countries has been found to contain estrogenic [12,13,14,15,17], antiestrogenic, and antiandrogenic (this study), as well as androgenic, progestagenic, and glucocorticoid-like chemicals [16]. This demonstrates that a popular beverage is contaminated with diverse-acting EDCs. ...
Article
Full-text available
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are man-made compounds interfering with hormone signaling and thereby adversely affecting human health. Recent reports provide evidence for the presence of EDCs in commercially available bottled water, including steroid receptor agonists and antagonists. However, since these findings are based on biological data the causative chemicals remain unidentified and, therefore, inaccessible for toxicological evaluation. Thus, the aim of this study is to assess the antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic activity of bottled water and to identify the causative steroid receptor antagonists. We evaluated the antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic activity of 18 bottled water products in reporter gene assays for human estrogen receptor alpha and androgen receptor. Using nontarget high-resolution mass spectrometry (LTQ-Orbitrap Velos), we acquired corresponding analytical data. We combined the biological and chemical information to determine the exact mass of the tentative steroid receptor antagonist. Further MS(n) experiments elucidated the molecule's structure and enabled its identification. We detected significant antiestrogenicity in 13 of 18 products. 16 samples were antiandrogenic inhibiting the androgen receptor by up to 90%. Nontarget chemical analysis revealed that out of 24520 candidates present in bottled water one was consistently correlated with the antagonistic activity. By combining experimental and in silico MS(n) data we identified this compound as di(2-ethylhexyl) fumarate (DEHF). We confirmed the identity and biological activity of DEHF and additional isomers of dioctyl fumarate and maleate using authentic standards. Since DEHF is antiestrogenic but not antiandrogenic we conclude that additional, yet unidentified EDCs must contribute to the antagonistic effect of bottled water. Applying a novel approach to combine biological and chemical analysis this is the first study to identify so far unknown EDCs in bottled water. Notably, dioctyl fumarates and maleates have been overlooked by science and regulation to date. This illustrates the need to identify novel toxicologically relevant compounds to establish a more holistic picture of the human exposome.
... This population includes infants, the elderly, as well as people with weakened immune systems due to viral infections, immune disorders, cancer, chemotherapy or recent organ transplantation. Mistrust of tap water quality, causes to consumers to turn to bottled water hoping to find a guarantee of safety and quality (Naidenko et al., 2008). Inorganic substances in water have received most of the attention because of their potentially harmful effects. ...
... A study conducted in California by Environmental Working Group (EWG) found 38 pollutants in 10 bottled water brands. In this study, bottled waters were purchased and test results revealed the chemical pollutants (that exceeded safety standards) listed in Table 3 including possible health effects (Naidenko et al., 2008). Fluoride is important for the integrity of bones and teeth; it protects teeth against dental caries. ...
... Result of another study show that Nitrate concentration in six brands of bottled drinking waters was 0.1 -1.7 mg/L with mean 0.5 mg/L. This level provides no margin of safety for infants (13). According to EPA, infants less than six months that drink water containing nitrate in excess of the potable water standard could become seriously ill and, if untreated may die (13). ...
... This level provides no margin of safety for infants (13). According to EPA, infants less than six months that drink water containing nitrate in excess of the potable water standard could become seriously ill and, if untreated may die (13). ...
Article
Full-text available
Background & Aims of the Study: Consumption of bottled water in the world is increasing. The highest growth rates are occurring in Asia and South America. Biological and chemical monitoring of these waters is necessary. The aim of current study was determination of nitrate concentration in bottled drinking water in Qom, Iran in 2012. Materials & Methods: A cross-sectional study carried out in Qom, Iran. First of all, 18 most frequent brands of bottled drinking waters were purchased in June 2012 randomly. Then concentration of nitrate was measured according to the spectrophotometric method. In next step, experiment data were analyzed by Excel Software and P value was obtained by statistical calculations. Finally data were comprised with written nitrate concentration on labels and recommended permissible values. Results: The median nitrate concentration was 2.1 mg/L with the minimum 0.8 mg/L and maximum 8.1 mg/L. In 66.7 % of the samples, the measured nitrate concentrations were less than the written nitrate concentrations and in 33.3% of samples, the nitrate concentration was higher. The statistical calculation proved the significant difference between the median of written nitrate concentration on the label and investigated nitrate concentration (Pvalue > 0.05). Conclusions: It be concluded that the measured nitrate concentration in all of the water samples is below the recommended permissible level.
... Though not published under peer review, the nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group commissioned a study of bottled water from the United States. Experiments conducted at the University of Missouri provide evidence that extracts of one of ten tested products induce a relative proliferative effect of 78% RPE in the E-Screen [28]. With regard to the broad spectrum of products analyzed in the three available E-Screen studies, the consistent detection of estrogenic effects of bottled water is remarkable. ...
... With regard to the broad spectrum of products analyzed in the three available E-Screen studies, the consistent detection of estrogenic effects of bottled water is remarkable. Unfortunately, the reported relative proliferative effects are not suitable for a quantitative comparison because Boehmler et al. [19] and Naidenko et al. [28] did not report in which concentration factor they tested the respective water extracts. To overcome this shortcoming, we performed a reanalysis of Boehmler et al.'s unattributed raw data to estimate estradiol equivalents according to the method used in this study. ...
Article
Full-text available
Human exposure to endocrine disruptors is well documented by biomonitoring data. However, this information is limited to few chemicals like bisphenol A or phthalate plasticizers. To account for so-far unidentified endocrine disruptors and potential mixture effects we employ bioassays to detect endocrine activity in foodstuff and consequently characterize the integrated exposure to endocrine active compounds. Recently, we reported a broad contamination of commercially available bottled water with estrogenic activity and presented evidence for the plastic packaging being a source of this contamination. In continuation of that work, we here compare different sample preparation methods to extract estrogen-like compounds from bottled water. These data demonstrate that inappropriate extraction methods and sample treatment may lead to false-negative results when testing water extracts in bioassays. Using an optimized sample preparation strategy, we furthermore present data on the estrogenic activity of bottled water from France, Germany, and Italy: eleven of the 18 analyzed water samples (61.1%) induced a significant estrogenic response in a bioassay employing a human carcinoma cell line (MCF7, E-Screen). The relative proliferative effects ranged from 19.8 to 50.2% corresponding to an estrogenic activity of 1.9-12.2 pg estradiol equivalents per liter bottled water. When comparing water of the same spring that is packed in glass or plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), estrogenic activity is three times higher in water from plastic bottles. These data support the hypothesis that PET packaging materials are a source of estrogen-like compounds. Furthermore, the findings presented here conform to previous studies and indicate that the contamination of bottled water with endocrine disruptors is a transnational phenomenon.
... Chemical contaminants in drinking water pose health risks for infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems due to viral infections, immune disorders, cancer, chemotherapy, or recent organ transplantation [7][8][9]. A study conducted in California found 38 pollutants in 10 bottled water brands [10]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Sales of bottled water have been increasing around the globe. This study was carried out to assess the trace elements present in bottled water. For the study of bottled water, a total of 100 samples of different volumes (20 L and 1 L) were selected. The physicochemical assessments were performed as per the methods described in the American Public Health Association, 2005. Average values of pH, electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids, and turbidity were found to be 5.96 ± 0.54, 59.97 ± 58.65, 4.42 ± 3.69, and 0.408 ± 0.19, respectively. Likewise, average values of total hardness (as CaCO3), calcium (as CaCO3), magnesium (as CaCO3), chlorine, iron, copper, cobalt, nickel, fluoride, sodium, and potassium were found to be 14.78 ± 8.43, 3.26 ± 1.55, 11.51 ± 7.92, 7.51 ± 3.21, 0.0032 ± 0.0017, 0.0091 ± 0.0116, 0.2520 ± 0.0127, 0.0080 ± 0.0082, 0.047 ± 0.0139, 12.65 ± 10.90, and 1.41 ± 2.00, respectively; meanwhile residual chlorine, zinc, silver, cadmium, and lead were below detection limit. All the physicochemical characteristics of bottled water were found to be within International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) guidelines. From the physicochemical aspects, the bottled water was found to be within the permissible value set by IBWA. Pearson’s correlation revealed significant association between trace elements. Levene’s test for equity of variances indicated that the majority (iron, copper, cobalt, nickel, fluoride, sodium, and potassium) of trace elements and seasons (monsoon and postmonsoon) demonstrated a statistically significant distribution (at 95% confidence interval). At elevated concentrations, some elements can be harmful to human health and can cause morphological abnormalities, mutagenic effects, reduced growth, and increased morbidity and mortality in humans but it all depends upon a person’s metabolic factors, genetic factors, and ability to excrete trace elements through different routes, etc. Water could have percolated down from the surface to the ground water and as such the difference in concentration of trace elements in monsoon and postmonsoon seasons could be noticeable. 1. Introduction Water is known as a universal solvent and even in its natural state it may contain substantial quantities of chemical elements [1, 2]. Anthropogenic contaminants (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, and nutrients) and industrial chemicals (e.g., hydrocarbon derivatives and heavy metals) can also be found in the water [3–6]. Chemical contaminants in drinking water pose health risks for infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems due to viral infections, immune disorders, cancer, chemotherapy, or recent organ transplantation [7–9]. A study conducted in California found 38 pollutants in 10 bottled water brands [10]. Inorganic substances (heavy metals and macro inorganic elements such as nitrate/nitrite) in water have received most of the attention because of their potentially harmful effects [7, 11]. At elevated concentrations, some elements can be harmful to human health and can cause morphological abnormalities, mutagenic effects, reduced growth, and increased mortality in humans [12]. The presence of organics, radionuclides, nitrates, and nitrites in drinking water can lead to cancer, other human body malfunctions, and chronic illness [13]. Several trace elements (Ag, Be, Li, Ge, Sb, Sc, Te, Th, and U) are not monitored in bottled waters [1, 2]. As a result, there are extremely limited data on the abundance and potential health impact of many toxic trace elements [12, 14]. The outcomes of this study are expected to increase the public’s understanding of water and the nutrients it contains. This study also hopes to enlighten the governmental bodies, water bottle industries, and license-providing authoritative bodies like International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) regarding the importance of excess trace elements in bottled water. The aim of this study is to assess some of the important physical and chemical properties of bottled water in comparison to the IBWA guidelines. 2. Methodology 2.1. Study Site The study was performed in the Department of Microbiology, St. Xavier’s College, Maitighar; the Research Center for Applied Science and Technology, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur; and the Department of Mines and Geology, Ministry of Industry, Lazimpat. The study was conducted from July 2017 through September 2017. 2.2. Sample Selection, Size, Collection, Transportation, and Storage For the bottled water study, both 20 L and 1 L bottles were selected and processed in both monsoon and postmonsoon seasons. A total of 100 samples were selected for the study. Bottled water in 20 L containers was purchased in the market. After shaking the bottle, the seal was opened in the market/retailer and the neck was sterilized by 70% ethanol. Four sterilized polypropylene bottles were filled, leaving headspace, and were labeled. Four 1L bottles of water were purchased from the market. The collected samples were kept in mini cooler with ice packs and transported to the laboratory to be processed. 3. Assessment of Physical Parameters 3.1. pH pH meter (calibrated by using buffer solutions of pH 4.0, 7.0, and 9.0) was used to determine the pH of water samples [15]. 3.2. Electric Conductivity Conductivity meter (calibrated by using standard sodium chloride solution of 19880 μS/cm) was used to determine the conductivity [15]. 3.3. Total Dissolved Solid 100 ml of water was filtered through membrane filter and then it was subjected to heat in a porcelain basin of known weight at 110°C in hot air oven and the basin was transferred to white silica containing desiccator. The change in weight was determined [15]. 3.4. Turbidity Nephelometer (calibrated with Formazin standard solutions of 0.2 NTU, 10 NTU, 100 NTU, and 1000 NTU) was used to measure the turbidity of water samples by filling in the clean and chemical leached dry cuvette [15]. 4. Assessment of Chemical Parameters 4.1. Total Hardness Measured volume of 2 mL buffer solution of ammonium chloride and ammonium hydroxide was added to 50 mL of the water samples. A change in color was observed and the solution was titrated against EDTA in the presence of the indicator Eriochrome Black T [15]. The was calculated aswhere is ml of EDTA consumed and is volume of sample. 4.2. Calcium Measured volume of 1 ml sodium hydroxide solution was added to 50 mL of water sample and 0.2 g solution (ammonium purpurate and sodium chloride). A change in color was observed and the solution was titrated against EDTA in the presence of the indicator NaOH solution [15]. Calcium was calculated aswhere is ml of EDTA consumed and is volume of sample. 4.3. Magnesium The value of calcium (as CaCO3) was deducted from total hardness (as CaCO3) [15]. Magnesium was calculated as Magnesium (as CaCO3) (mg/L) = Total hardness (as CaCO3) - Calcium (as CaCO3). 4.4. Chloride After adjusting the pH of water between 7 and 10 (with the addition of H2SO4 and NaOH), 50 mL of water was titrated against AgNO3 in the presence of indicator K2Cr2O4 and change in color was noticed [15]. The process was repeated for blank. Chloride was calculated aswhere denotes AgNO3 consumed by sample, denotes AgNO3 consumed by blank, denotes strength of AgNO3, and denotes volume of sample. 4.5. Residual Chlorine In a clean and chemical leached conical flask, 5 mL acetic acid and 50 mL sample were mixed. 1 mL of potassium iodide was added in the solution which was titrated against 0.025 N Na2S2O3. After adding starch solution, titration was again done against 0.025 N Na2S2O3 [15]. As a quality control blank was run using the same methodology. Residual chlorine was calculated aswhere denotes strength of Na2S2O3, denotes volume of Na2S2O3 consumed, and denotes volume of sample. 4.6. Fluoride First value was set to 0 at 570 nm with the help of reference solution. The absorbance was taken in a clean, chemical leached cuvette containing 5 mL water and 50 μL NaAsO2 [15]. As a quality control blank was run using the same methodology. 4.7. Sodium and Potassium After calibrating the flame photometer at 589 nm for sodium and 768 nm for potassium (NaCl solutions of standards 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 mg/L; KCl solution of standards 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 mg/L), respectively, 5 ml water sample was taken in a clean, chemical leached, and dry tube. In case of excess concentration of sodium in the sample, dilution was done with deionized water and dilution factor was applied to the obtained value in flame photometer [15]. 4.8. Trace Elements About 500 mL water filtered using membrane filter was stored in 4°C in a chemical leached bottle. The heavy metals were detected using Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (FAAS) AA-7000 manufactured by Shimadzu, Japan, with ASC-7000 autosampler [15]. The instrumental parameters set for the analysis of the elements analyzed is tabulated separately as follows (Table 1). Elements Wavelength (nm) Slit width (nm) Lamp current (mA) Flow rate of air acetylene flame (L/min) Acetylene Air Iron 248.3 0.2 12 2.2 15 Zinc 213.9 0.7 8 1.8 Silver 328.1 0.2 2 0.9 Copper 324.8 0.7 8 1.8 Cadmium 228.8 0.7 4 1.2 Cobalt 240.7 0.2 12 1.6 Nickel 232.0 0.2 12 1.6 Lead 283.3 0.5 5 1.5 L: liter(s); nm: nanometer; mA: milliamperes; min: minute.
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