Bottled Water: Is It Really Good For You?

With Flint residents having to turn to bottled water, questions are being raised about how safe bottled water is. Mark Baumgartner of ABC News reported on a study conducted by the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund International, which stated, “Bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water, while selling for up to 1,000 times the price.” Baumgartner continues, “The report says the $22-billion-a-year bottled water industry uses 1.5 million tons of plastic annually to package water. The manufacture and disposal of plastic causes toxic chemicals to be released into the environment.”

According to Richard Holland of World Wildlife International, “Bottled water isn’t a long-term sustainable solution to securing access to healthy water.” In the U.S., bottled water does not fall under the same EPA regulations as tap water and may not contain fluoride, which is important in preventing tooth decay.

Last year, Emily Peck of The Huffington Post reported on a lawsuit against Swiss-based Nestlé, one of the world’s largest bottling companies, which also extracts water from the Great Lakes. Nestlé was extracting water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California, where three environmental groups filed lawsuits against the United States Forest Service to prevent Nestlé from taking water from the area and bottling in their brand, “Arrowhead.” Eddie Kurtz, an executive director of the Courage Campaign Institute, one of the groups that filed against the Forest, questions how corporations should be allowed to profit off a natural resource that rightfully belongs to everyone. In Emily Peck’s report, Tim Brown, an executive of Nestlé, expresses that bottled water does not contribute to the drought present in California, continuing to say that only 705 million gallons of water is extracted from the forest.

In 2003, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation won a lawsuit against Nestlé over its “Ice Mountain” brand bottling operation in west Michigan. Nestlé was court-ordered to reduce the rates of extraction from the Dead Stream and Thompson Lake watersheds at its Big Rapids bottling operation. The trial judge agreed with MCWC’s contention that Nestlé was harming the ecosystem and reducing water levels. After a series of appeals by the bottling company, a settlement was reached in 2009 allowing Nestlé to pump water, but at lower rates.

According to the Associated Press, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had given Nestlé a permit to extract 400 gallons of water per minute. Vice President Heidi Paul of Nestlé said of the settlement, “Reaching this agreement is very important for Nestlé Waters’ employees and their families, the west Michigan community and our company, in that it brings certainty for our operations, supports local jobs and puts an issue behind us.”

Nestlé also came under criticism for false advertising. Nadia Arumugam, contributing writer for Forbes, reported in 2012 that a lawsuit was brought against Nestlé’s “Ice Mountain” brand for misleading consumers, falsely claiming its water to be from natural springs. Nestlé lost a similar lawsuit over false labeling in Connecticut in 2003, where it settled for $10 million in charitable contributions.

In an announcement last month, Nestlé, together with Coca Cola, Walmart, and PepsiCo donated 6.5 million bottles of water to Flint. Whether or not the water in those bottles is actually from Michigan’s own watersheds is unclear.