True cost ounce by ounce of water in 2012 (Bottled vs. Tap)

Ounce for ounce, water costs more than gasoline, even at today’s high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it cost 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Globally the bottled water industry is now worth $46 billion. More than half of all Americans drink bottled water; about a third of the public consumes it regularly. Sales have tripled in the past ten years, to about $4 billion a year. This sales bonanza has been fueled by ubiquitous ads picturing towering mountains, pristine glaciers, and crystal-clear springs nestled in untouched forests yielding pure water. But is the marketing image of total purity accurate? Also, are rules for bottled water stricter than those for tap water?

Is there a health impact?

The bottled water industry promotes an image of purity, but in fact it is exactly the opposite. Bottled water has been seen to contain chemical contaminants (toxic byproducts of chlorination). According to the Earth Policy Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles in the United States end up in landfills, which has a long-term effect that could impact ground water.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study of 10 major bottled water brands. The laboratory test conducted by EWG at one of the countries leading water quality laboratories found that 10 popular brands of bottled water, purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in nine states and the District of Colombia, 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. The Achieves of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria. The NRDC reports, water stored in plastic bottles for ten weeks showed signs of phthalate-leaching. Phthalates block testosterone and other hormones.  One thing to keep in mind  phthalates in tap water are regulated, no such regulation at all for bottled water.

Where is all the Legislation?

In 2007, the State of California passed a law (SB 220) designed to reverse the dearth of basic public data about the quality of bottled water. The law mandates that water bottled after January 1, 2009 and sold in California must be labeled with both source and two ways for consumers to contract the company for the water quality report.  (96 bottled water companies present in California and only 34% complied with SB 220.

The State of California has legal limits for bottled water contaminants. However, unlike tap water, consumers are provided with test results every year of the source contaminants and purity. Bottled water industry is not required to disclose the results of any contaminant testing. Instead, the industry hides behind the claim that bottled water is held to the same safety standard as tap water. But keep in mind both bottled water and tap water suffer from the occasional contamination problem, but tap water is more stringently monitored and tightly regulated than bottled water. For example New, Your City tap water was tested 430,600 times during 2004 alone.

In 2008, more than 100 bottled water facilities were operating within California. Each of those facilities reports the amount of water extracted from groundwater sources to the state Department of Public Health.The Department of Public Health then relays the information to the State Water Board, who tabulates all water inventory of water rights for the state of California.  AB2275 was put in place in California to ensure that the state’s water is responsible allocated in ways that protect our environment, economy and quality of life.

The Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water, and the U.S. EPA is in charge of tap water. The Safe Drinking Water Act empowers EPA to require water testing by certified laboratories and that violations be reported within a specific time frame. (Public water systems must also provide reports to customers about their water.) The FDA, on the other hand, regulates bottled water as food and cannot require certified lab testing or violation reporting. As a result, the FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminates it contents.

Economic Perspective:

The water bottle industry has grown to become a $10 billion (2010), doubling in growth over recent years. In 2004, Americans, on average, drank 24 gallons of bottled water, making it second only to carbonated soft drinks in popularity. Bottled water costs 10,000 times more than tap water, and 40% of bottled water comes straight from the tap. Some may say the appearance, odor, flavor, mouth, feel, and aftertaste impact their choice in which type of water they prefer to drink but what cost are they will pay. If you drank the 99-cent bottle today, then took the bottle home and continued to use it, you could refill it every day with tap water until July 3, 2017, before you’d spent 99 cents on the tap water.The NYT article “Bad to the Last Drop” provides a great perspective on the comparison of bottled and tap water.

However, bottled water is undeniably more fashionable and convenient than tap water. The practice of carrying a small bottle, pioneered by supermodels, has become a commonplace.

The ultimate price for water!

An interesting article was published in Cleveland Plain Dealer that described an interesting perspective on revenue generation of water fountains vs. bottled water. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article about the disappearing water fountains halfway through the NBA season, the Cavaliers first said they were following advice from the NBA, that water fountains spread swine flu (the NBA never gave such guidance). The Plain Dealer pointed out that the removal was illegal — public buildings are required by building codes to have water fountains, the number based on capacity. Fans were so angry — once the paper pointed out that the fountains were gone; strange they hadn’t noticed — that the Cavaliers set up temporary water stations around the arena, so those who wanted a drink didn’t have to stand in line.
The Q then scrambled to re-install the fountains. By then, the Cavaliers alone had hosted 29 sold-out home games at the Q — almost 600,000 thirsty fans. If just 10 percent of those fans bought a $4 bottle of water they otherwise wouldn’t have, that’s nearly $10,000 in additional concession revenue, just for water, at each game.

Elimination of Bottled Water:

  1.  Grand Canyon eliminated the sale of bottled water inside the park within 30 days. John Wessel, regional director for the park service stated, ” Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability, I feel confident that the impact to park concession and partners have been given fair considerations and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public.”
  2.  Colleges Ban Bottled Water: The Association for the advancement of Belmont University, Oberlin College, Seattle University, University Ottawa, University Portland, University of Wisconsin- Stevens Ports, Upstate Medical University, Washington University in St. Louis have banned the sale of bottled water on there campuses. Schools on a similar track who have banned plastic bottled water from dining halls include: Gonzaga University, New York University, Stanford University, Stony Brook University, and University of Maryland. Schools where the students are campaigning to ban bottled water include: Brown University, Cornell University, Evergreen State College, Pennsylvania State University, and Vancouver Island University
  3. In April of last year Concord, Ma. banned the sale of Bottled Water, Making international headlines. However when the ban was intended to go into effect in January of 2012 voters at the annual town meeting rejected the proposal and instead proposed to educate citizens about bottled water’s environmental impact.
  4. Well in 2010 a ban on bottled water at all events held on city property was considered but never turned into law. However San Francisco has already done away with bottled water at city meetings.
  5. 19 US cities, 14 states, and 12 countries make an impact to steer away from bottled water.

What is the end game?
More than 2.6 billion people, or more than 40% of the worlds population, lack basic sanitation, and more than one billion people lack reliable access to safe drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of all illnesses in the world is due to water-borne diseases, and that at any given time around half of the people in developing world are suffering from diseases associated with inadequate water sanitation (killing more than 5 million people annually).

If clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 Billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. So I guess at the end of the day society needs to decide what we want for our future and legislation will assist in securing the well being of our resources.

Greywater, Water Water, and Carbon

  • According to the AWWA, 84% of residential water is used in non-drinking water applications (Lawn irrigation, laundry, showers, toilet flushing)
  • Progress within the grey water world, NSF/ANSI 350: Onsite water reuse 
    • L.E.E.D. stated that it satisfied the grey water requirement
    • National Association of Home Builders and National Green Building Certification Program states that it satisfies the innovative practice requirement
  • Dupont Corporation was fined for water quality violations by Department of Justice, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; $500,000 for contaminated discharge into Delaware River between 2005 to the present. 
    • Originally being notified of exceeding permitted wastewater discharge limit Dupont Corporation continued to exceed the limits resulting in regulatory action. 
    • Contaminants that were released into Delaware River were hydrogen chloride, titanium tetrachloride, iron chloride 
    • Course of action: 
      1. Fined $500,000
      2. 15 month environmental compliance assessment
      3. Implementation of a storm-water pollution prevention plan 
  • Carbon Disclosure Project:  Goal is to harness the collective power of corporations, investors, and political leaders to accelerate unified action on climate change. The Carbon Action Initiative  is a report released by the Carbon Disclosure Project that compiled and analyzed over 3,000 organizations in some 60 countries around the world: greenhouse gas emissions, water management and climate change strategies. 

Random Water Facts and Disputes

  1. Fire Departments Vs. Public Utilities: Numerous Utilities in North Carolina have had extensive water theft by local fire departments. When I initially heard of this argument, I thought it was a misprint, but it’s not…. Numerous fire departments have been illegally drawing water from hydrants to fill swimming pools and other non-firefighting related activities. Little do they know that North Carolina legislation states that fire departments and other water thefts can be charged $500.00 per misuse or five times the cost of water taken (which can be high). (Call with Warren Public Utility)
  2. According to the AWWA 08 rate study: National water and wastewater charges increased 12.3% and 15.1%, respectively, for a residential customer using 1,000 cubic feet (cf) of water a month between January 1, 2006 and July 1, 2008.  During the same period, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all urban customers increased 10.9%.
  3. Between 1996 and 2008, water and wastewater charges for residential customers using 1,000 ccf per month have increased 4.21% and 4.39% annually, respectively, which is greater than the annual CPI increase of 2.87% (AWWA Rate Study, 2008).
  4. Water and wastewater charges are highest in the Northeast while water and wastewater charges are lowest in the Midwest (AWWA Rate Study, 2008).
  5. Even with the charge increases, water and wastewater charges remain affordable as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency.(National Census Data).

EcoTrip: Cell Phones Impact on the Environment

Sundance Channel’s new television series Eco Trip released a new episode on the Cellphone industries impact on the environment, and it was extremely frightening. Shelia Davis, an expert at Silicone Valley Toxic Coalition, shows how the semiconductor and chip resistors business, as well as underground storage of chemicals, impacts the environment through L.U.S.T. (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks). LUST contaminates not only the site in which these products are developed but the soils beneath them and the water that runs through them. Most of these industries shut down facilities and dismantle the buildings so that other development can move in, little did we know that these locations are Superfund sites. A Superfund site is where these LUST events occur, and there has been clear documentation of the contamination and little to know clean up. The EPA now must take over the clean up of theses sites and rank the site for its impact on water contamination and soil degradation. Many neighborhoods have these contaminated sites, homes, markets, schools, and small businesses are typically exposed. The indicator that the EPA takes into consideration increase in birth defects in comparison to regional standards.

The waste part of cellphones were some of the most shocking information because cell phones (toxic waste) are either incinerated or put in a landfill. These chemicals impact the groundwater beneath these waste sites with 50 different chemicals, and according to EPA they qualify as hazardous waste yet four out of five cell phones end up in waste sites. Cadmium, copper, beryllium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and brominated flame retardants in the cell phones have extreme harmful effects on not only the environment but upon humans as well. Lead accumulates and can cause extensive damage to central and peripheral nervous system, blood systems, and kidneys. Consumer electronics are responsible for 40% of Lead in landfills. When Mercury (used on printed circuit boards) sits in waterways, it can transform into methylated mercury in the sediments which leads to brain damage.  Brominated Flame Retardants used as plastic covers and cables increase the risk of digestive and lymphatic cancers, and it concentrates in food chains. These are just a few of the chemicals used to develop cell phones, we have yet to know the impact to know the impact of the use of cell phones on the human brain. However, earlier studies (not long term studies) done do show and impact on the brain function. 

 

Water Quotes

  1. “For each ton of recycled paper you save 7000 gallons of water/ 17 trees/ 4200 Kilowatt-hours of energy/ 40 lbs of nitrogen emissions/ 3 cubic yards of landfill space.”
  2. “A person must consume 2.5 quarts of water per day from all sources (drinking, eating) to maintain health.” US EPA.
  3. “62,600 gallons of water are needed to produce one ton of steel.” US EPA.
  4. “The United States consumes water at twice the rate of other industrialized nations.” National Park Service.
  5. “75% of a living tree is water; 66% of human body is water; 75% of the human brain is water.” US EPA.
  6. “Americans flush 6.8 billion gallons of water down their toilets every day.” National Parks Service.
  7. “Alfalfa consumes almost 25% of California’s irrigation water, more water than any other crop in the state.” Natural Resource Defense Council.
  8. “The average 5-minute showers uses 15-25 gallons of water.” American Water Works Association.
  9. Preliminary estimates show that the total energy used to pump and treat water in California exceeds 15,00 GWH per year, or at least 6.5% of the total electricity used in the State per year.” California Department of Water Resources.
  10. “Leaks account for 12% of an average Californian’s daily water use.” The Pacific Institute.
  11. “Bottled water can cost 240-10,000 times more than tap water and may not be any more safe to drink. Around 25-35% of bottled water sold in the U.S. comes from a city or town’s tap water, sometimes further treated, sometimes note.” Natural Resources Defense Council.
  12. “It takes 39,090 gallons of water on average to manufacture a new car.” EPA
  13. “Agriculture accounts for 87% of all the freshwater consumed each year in the U.S.” Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment, by David Pimentel.
  14. “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”Benjamin Franklin.
  15. “Water sustains all.” Thales of Miletus, 600B.C