If you needed final justification to ban the bottle--the plastic water bottle, that is--a just-released government report provides it. On Wednesday the US Government Accountability Office released a report on bottled water: "FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water." The report calls for greater consumer information to be provided on bottled water labels, confirms that "bottled water does not necessarily have lowers levels of contamination than tap water," and raises concerns about the environmental damage so many un-recycled plastic bottles (about 3/4 of US-produced bottles in 2006 were discarded) continue to inflict.
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At the center of the issue is the fact that FDA is required to regulate bottled water as food, which has, according to the report, "subjected it to many of the same problems more generally affecting FDA oversight of food safety." Federal oversight of food safety, the report continues, is a "high-risk area" that is fragmented, increasingly underfunded, and in need of "fundamental reexamination."
A second report, out this week from Environmental Working Group (EWG), gives further evidence of the wide gulf in regulations betweet tap and bottled water, reporting that "only 2 of 188 bottled waters surveyed make public 3 basic facts about their products routinely disclosed by municipal water utilities." Rather important facts--like the source of the water, the purification methods used, and the amount of residual pollutants still present when the water gets to the consumer.
So drink your tap water (EWG recommends filtering it first) and resist the urge to buy the bottled stuff, despite all that beautiful, questionably-regulated marketing. Or maybe, instead of waiting for the FDA to get organized, the US government should take a page from the tiny Australian town of Bundadoon and prohibit the bottles altogether. Probably be a lot simpler. And if you still need your water portable, get a flask and a sheep.
For more on this story and water in Los Angeles and beyond, read chance of rain, a new water blog by local journalist and LAT contributor Emily Green.