Bottled water

Municipal Water Supplies in the USA - how bad are they?

Much of the information on water that follows has come from reports by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) a US-based non-profit organization, founded in 1993.

For more details see:
Testing of home tap water in the USA
Testing methodology
Report Findings

The EWG's analysis of nearly 20 million drinking water tests conducted by water suppliers across the USA between 2004 and 2009 revealed hundreds of pollutants in their tap water. For most, the US government has not set safety-based legal limits. Many other contaminants were found in drinking water at concentrations above government-issued advisory health guidelines.

The list of over 300 detected contaminants included:
1 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane 101 Chlorine dioxide 201 Manganese, Dissolved 301 Tribromoacetic acid
2 1,1,1-Trichloroethane 102 Chlorite 202 m-Dichlorobenzene 302 Trichloroacetic acid
3 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane 103 Chloroneb (in German) 203 Mercury (total inorganic) 303 Trichloroethylene
4 1,1,2-Trichloroethane 104 Chloroacetonitrile 204 Merphos 304 Trichlorofluoromethane
5 1,1-Dichloroethane 105 Chlorodibromoacetic acid 205 Methane 305 Trichlorotrifluoroethane
6 1,1-Dichloroethylene 106 Chlorodifluoromethane 206 Methomyl 306 Trifluralin
7 1,1-Dichloropropanone 107 Chloroethane 207 Methoxychlor 307 Tritium
8 1,1-Dichloropropene 108 Chloroform 208 Methyl Acetate 308 Uranium-234
9 1,2,3-Trichlorobenzene 109 Chloromethane 209 Methyl acrylonitrile 309 Uranium-234 (pCi/L)
10 1,2,3-Trichloropropane 110 Chromium (hexavalent) 210 Methyl ethyl ketone 310 Uranium-235
11 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 111 Chromium (total) 211 Methyl isobutyl ketone 311 Uranium-238
12 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene 112 Chrysene 212 Methyl methacrylate 312 Uranium-238 (pCi/L)
13 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) 113 cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene 213 Metolachlor 313 Vanadium
14 1,2-Dichloroethane 114 cis-1,3-Dichloropropene 214 Metribuzin 314 Vinyl chloride
15 1,2-Dichloropropane 115 Combined Radium (-226 & -228) 215 Mirex
16 1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene 116 Combined Uranium (mg/L) 216 Molinate (Ordram)
17 1,3-Dichloropropane 117 Combined Uranium (pCi/L) 217 Molybdenum
18 1,3-Dichloropropene 118 Copper 218 Monobromoacetic acid
19 1,4-Dioxane 119 Cyanazine (Bladex) 219 Monochloroacetic acid
20 1-Chlorobutane 120 Cyanide 220 Monochlorobenzene (Chlorobenzene)
21 2,2-Dichloropropane 121 Cyanogen Chloride 221 MTBE
22 2,3,7,8-TCDD (Dioxin) 122 Dacthal 222 m-Xylene
23 2,4,5-T 123 Dalapon 223 Naphthalene
24 2,4,5-TP (Silvex) 124 DCPA di acid degradate 224 n-Butylbenzene
25 2,4-D 125 DCPA mono acid degradate 225 n-Hexane
26 2,6-Dinitrotoluene 126 delta-BHC 226 Nitrate
27 2-Hexanone 127 Desethylatrazine 227 Nitrate & nitrite
28 2-Methyl naphthalene 128 Di(2-Ethylhexyl) adipate 228 Nitrite
29 3-Hydroxycarbofuran 129 Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 229 Nitrobenzene
30 4-Methyl-2-pentanone 130 Diazinon (Spectracide) 230 n-Nitroso di-N-Propylamine
31 Acenaphthene 131 Dibenz[a,h]anthracene 231 n-Nitrosodimethylamine
32 Acenaphthylene 132 Dibenzofuran 232 N-nitrosodi-n-butylamine (ndba)
33 Acetaldhyde 133 Dibromoacetic acid 233 N-nitrosopyrrolidine (npyr)
34 Acetochlor 134 Dibromochloromethane 234 Nonanal
35 Acetone 135 Dibromomethane 235 n-Propylbenzene
36 Acrylonitrile 136 Dicamba 236 o-Chlorotoluene
37 Alachlor (Lasso) 137 Dichloroacetic acid 237 o-Dichlorobenzene
38 Aldicarb 138 Dichloroacetonitrile 238 Oxamyl (Vydate)
39 Aldicarb sulfone 139 Dichlorobenzenes (total) 239 o-Xylene
40 Aldicarb sulfoxide 140 Dichlorobiphenyl 240 p,p'-DDT
41 Aldrin 141 Dichlorodifluoromethane 241 para-para DDD
42 Alpha Chlordane 142 Dichlorofluoromethane 242 para-para DDE
43 Alpha particle activity 143 Dichloroiodomethane 243 Paraquat wikipedia
44 Alpha particle activity (excl radon and uranium) 144 Dichloromethane (methylene chloride) 244 Parathion (ethyl)
45 Alpha particle activity (incl. radon & uranium) 145 Dieldrin 245 PCB 1262
46 Alpha particle activity (suspended) 146 Diethylphthalate 246 p-Chlorotoluene
47 Alpha, Dissolved 147 Dimethylphthalate 247 p-Dichlorobenzene
48 alpha-Lindane 148 Di-n-butylphthalate 248 Pentachlorophenol
49 Aluminum 149 Di-n-octylphthalate 249 Pentanal
50 Anthracene 150 Dinoseb 250 Pentane
51 Antimony (total) 151 Diquat 251 Perchlorate
52 Aroclor 1016 152 Diuron 252 Perfluorobutane Sulfonate (PFBS)
53 Aroclor 1221 153 Endosulfan I 253 Perfluorobutanoic Acid (PFBA)
54 Aroclor 1232 154 Endosulfan II 254 Perfluorohexane Sulfonate (PFHXS)
55 Aroclor 1242 155 Endosulfan Sulfate 255 Perfluorohexanoic Acid (PFXHA)
56 Aroclor 1248 156 Endothall 256 Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
57 Aroclor 1254 157 Endrin 257 Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
58 Aroclor 1260 158 Endrin Aldehyde 258 Perfluoropentanoic Acid (PFPEA)
59 Arsenic (total) 159 EPTC (Eptam) 259 Phenanthrene
60 Asbestos 160 Ethyl Acetate 260 Phenols
61 Atrazine 161 Ethyl ether 261 Phosphorus
62 Barium (total) 162 Ethyl Methacrylate 262 Picloram
63 Bentazon (Basagran) 163 Ethylbenzene 263 p-Isopropyltoluene
64 Benzene 164 Ethylene dibromide (EDB) 264 Potassium-40 (total)
65 Benzo[a]anthracene 165 Ethylene Glycol 265 Prometon
66 Benzo[a]pyrene 166 Ethyl-t-butyl ether (ETBE) 266 Prometryn
67 Benzo[b]fluoranthene 167 Fluometuron 267 Propachlor
68 Benzo[b]fluoranthene & Benzo[k]fluoranthene 168 Fluoranthene 268 Propanal
69 Benzo[g,h,i]perylene 169 Fluorene 269 p-Xylene
70 Benzo[k]fluoranthene 170 Foaming agents (surfactants) 270 Pyrene
71 Benzoic acid 171 Formaldehyde 271 Radium-226
72 Beryllium (total) 172 Gamma Chlordane 272 Radium-228
73 beta-Lindane 173 Glyoxal 273 Radon
74 bis(2-chloroethyl) ether 174 Glyphosate 274 sec-Butylbenzene
75 bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 175 Gross beta particle & photon emitters (man-made) 275 Selenium (total)
76 Bromacil 176 Gross beta particle activity (dissolved) 276 Silicon
77 Bromate 177 Gross beta particle activity (mrem/yr) 277 Silver (total)
78 Bromide 178 Gross beta particle activity (pCi/L) 278 Simazine
79 Bromide-82 179 Gross beta particle activity (suspended) 279 Strontium
80 Bromobenzene 180 Heptachlor 280 Strontium-89
81 Bromochloroacetic acid 181 Heptachlor epoxide 281 Strontium-90
82 Bromochloromethane 182 Heptanal 282 Styrene
83 Bromodichloroacetic acid 183 Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) 283 Tebuthiuron
84 Bromodichloromethane 184 Hexachlorobutadiene 284 Tert-Amyl-Methyl Ether
85 Bromoform 185 Hexachlorocyclopentadiene 285 Tert-Butyl Alcohol
86 Bromomethane 186 Hexachloroethane 286 tert-Butylbenzene
87 Butachlor 187 Hexazinone 287 Tetrachloroethylene
88 Butanal 188 Hydrogen sulfide 288 Tetrahydrofuran
89 Butane 189 Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene 289 Thallium (total)
90 Butyl Benzylphthalate 190 Iodine-131 290 Thiobencarb (Bolero)
91 Butylate (Sutan) 191 Iodomethane 291 Tin (total)
92 Cadmium (total) 192 Isophorone 292 Titanium
93 Caffeine 193 Isopropyl alcohol 293 Toluene
94 Carbaryl 194 Isopropyl ether 294 Total haloacetic acids (HAAs)
95 Carbofuran 195 Isopropylbenzene 295 Total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
96 Carbon tetrachloride 196 Lead (total) 296 Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)
97 Cesium-134 197 Lindane 297 Toxaphene
98 Chloramine 198 Lithium 298 trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene
99 Chlorate 199 m- & p- Xylene 299 trans-1,3-Dichloropropene
100 Chlordane 200 Manganese 300 trans-1,4-Dichloro-2-butene

and could be further categorised as:
Origins of water contaminants

More recently the number of species being tested for in the USA has increased to over 450.
Number of chemical contaminants tested for by water utilities

Sources of contaminants identified by EWG.

Is bottled water any better?

Tap water in the USA is regulated more consistently and every public water system falls under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, and is regularly inspected for bacteria and toxic chemicals. In general water systems in the developed world are well-regulated. In contrast, bottled water in the USA is governed by Food and Drug Administration rules when transported across state lines and otherwise by individual states. So in theory, bottled water in the United States falls under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. In practice, about 70 percent of bottled water never crosses state lines for sale, making it exempt from FDA oversight.

One particular strength of tap water regulations is that they guarantee the consumer's "right to know" what's in their water. Utilities must issue annual "Water Quality Reports" -- otherwise called "Consumer Confidence Reports" -- identifying the source of the water and contaminants found in it. FDA regulations for bottled water offer nothing comparable. False claims on labels are barred, but there is no requirement that contaminants within so-called safe limits be listed. You can ask bottled water companies for the information but note that they are under no obligation to reveal anything.

A guaranteed "right to know" means more than you might think. Say there was arsenic in your tap or bottled water, but it was "only" 9 parts per billion (ppb). Arsenic is considered unsafe at any level, having been linked to cancer and other health problems. Yet both the EPA and FDA, in a bow to industry, which wants to keep water treatment costs down, allow up to 10 ppb. The bottled water label would not have to mention the arsenic (and might even call the water pure!). But the Water Quality Report from the utility would have to list it.

While public safety groups correctly point out that many municipal water systems are aging and there remain hundreds of chemical contaminants for which no standards have been established, there's very little empirical evidence that suggests bottled water is any cleaner or better for you than its tap equivalent.

story of bottled water

Five Reasons to skip Bottled Water

Local Bottled Water

From a 2010 article in The Observer:
Investing in water, the blue gold
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Water is the world's most prized possession, more valuable than oil or gold will ever be. But because we come in contact with it on a daily basis, we tend to overlook its scarcity and hence, its value. Most of us went through our usual motions on Monday, March 22nd without even knowing that it was World Water Day, developed by the United Nations in 1992 and observed annually to build awareness of the global water crisis. The world is in constant dialogue about ways to protect its most precious commodity, and Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, which are currently facing a severe drought, need to join in this effort more actively. It is also time for investors to chime in, if they haven't already, as long-term investment opportunities exist in water.

Of the 70 per cent of the earth's surface that is covered in water, 97 per cent is saltwater, which cannot be used for drinking, crop irrigation or most industrial purposes. Less than one per cent of the remaining three per cent that is fresh water is readily accessible for human consumption. As a result, the world has a global water crisis on its hands. Demand far outstrips supply, and if the global population continues to grow at its current pace, it is estimated that more than half the world's population will encounter water shortages by 2025, and eventually the world will run out of water completely.

Yet, alternative energy has been at the top of global governments' priority lists, and investors have followed suit. Oil, ethanol and natural gas have been in the limelight for decades now. But the reality is that none of these can exist in a usable form without water. We should then be asking ourselves why investors haven't focused more of their attention on water, commonly referred to as the "blue gold".

Part of the answer is that water remains cheap. Due to government subsidies, water prices are held artificially low. As such, water is one of the few commodities whose price does not move in accordance with simple supply and demand economics - shortages have not resulted in price increases. Also, investors are skeptical about whether water is really that scarce. With technology, it is now possible to desalinate ocean water, purifying it to a drinkable form. So how can there be any kind of water shortage when all of the earth's water can be treated?

Like everything else, it comes down to cost. Desalination is extremely expensive, costing at least five times as much as other sources of fresh water. For starters, energy accounts for up to 44 per cent of the desalination cost, making it vulnerable to spikes in oil prices. Though there are more than 10,000 desalination plants around the world, half of these are in the Gulf area, in oil-producing nations. So essentially, the world has two options - either cut back on usage (and we all know people won't unless they are subjected to price increases) or desalinate. Both of these result in higher prices of water in the long run, clearly indicating that now is the time to consider investing in water.

There are multiple avenues for investors to do this. The more conservative option is to take a position in a diversified company that has exposure to the water industry. Nestlé Waters, a segment of Nestlé SA (SIX: NSRGY) is the leading bottled water company globally, having approximately 30 per cent of market share in North America. It has over 72 bottled water brands, including Poland Spring, Arrowhead and Deer Park, as well as higher end brands such as Perrier and S Pellegrino. NRSGY has outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) over the past 52-weeks, climbing 62.84 per cent, while the DJIA is up 48.18 per cent.

Similarly, soda giants such as The Cola-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) and PepsiCo, Inc (NYSE: PEP) are also large distributors of bottled water, Dasani and Aquafina respectively. Both companies have a track record of robust earnings, and though KO and PEP do not breakout their profits specific to their bottled water businesses, both have reported that they have seen strong sales growth in this segment. But the bottled water business is not only booming on the international market, but also here in Jamaica. In August 2009, it was reported in the media that Wisynco's Wata brand recorded 50% growth so far for the year.

However, investors also have the option to invest in companies whose business directly focuses on water treatment. Calgon Carbon Corp (NYSE: CCC), which provides water purification solutions, and Nalco Holding Company (NYSE: NLC), which offers integrated industrial water treatment, are two of the biggest names in the water industry in the US. CCC has increased 24.1 per cent year-to-date and 15.77 per cent over the past year. The company reported fourth quarter 2009 Earnings per Share (EPS) that more than doubled to US$ 0.23 from US$ 0.12 in 2008 (up from US$ 0.08 in Q04 2007). Similarly, NLC has increased more than two fold over the 52-week period and reported EPS of US$ 0.31 for its fourth quarter ended December 31, 2009, its strongest quarter for the year.

Other options include investing through exchange traded funds (ETFs), the most popular being the PowerShares Global Water Portfolio (NYSE: PIO). The fund is based on the Palisades Global Water Index, an index that tracks the performance of companies involved in the global water industry. Over the past 52-weeks, POI has outperformed the DJIA, rising 58.17 per cent. However, it is important for investors to note that PIO's portfolio is rebalanced and reconstituted quarterly.

The world's water crisis will not be on the back burner for much longer and investors should consider the global water industry as part of their long-term investments. As it becomes increasingly difficult to quench the world's thirst for "blue gold", investors may want to take a second look at water stocks, particularly water treatment and bottling companies.

According to a 2005 report in The Gleaner:
Imported bottled water drowning local producers
published: Sunday | May 29, 2005
JAMAICA is known as the land of wood and water, but the country still imports more than ten times the amount of water it exports.

The National Water Commission (NWC) estimates that the average person uses approximately 142 litres (37.5 gallons) of water per month for drinking and cooking, and consumption trends over the last 10 years show that an increasing portion of that consists of the bottled variety.

But while foreign producers have found it easy to access the domestic market, exporters have struggled to return the favour.

Major local bottlers say the Jamaican market is being flooded with imports. They say the imports have easily filtered into the market because global prices are so low.

Managing Director of Peak Bottling Company, David Wong, says there are more than 42 different brands of bottled water being sold in the Jamaican market. On the other hand just about five companies, including Peak Bottling Company, Jamaica Drink Company Limited and Lewcan Enterprises are involved in exports.

They sell their products to North America, Holland, Britain and the Caribbean, which is one of their most lucrative markets.

The latest figures from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica show that 304,111 litres of flavourless mineral water, valued at J$10.1 million was imported in the first half of 2004, while 22,479 litres, valued at J$1.36 million was exported for the same period.

Likewise, 954,576 litres of ordinary natural water, priced at J$35.6 million was imported versus the 104,194 litres exported.


Globally some 200 billion litres of bottled water are consumed creating a $63 billion dollar industry. One the most peculiar facts is that 40% of this bottled water is actually taken from municipal water sources also known as "tap water". Another strange element of this puzzle is that far less testing is done on bottled water than on tap water. It turns out that unlike tap water, bottled water isn't tested for e. coli. More still is the fact that it can be distributed even if it doesn't meet the quality standards of tap water. Unlike tap water, bottled water isn't required to produce quality reports or even provide it's source.

Comically, the bottled water production process is fairly resource intensive. It actually takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce bottled water which is enough oil to fuel 1 million cars for a whole year. Oil isn't the only necessary resource. Luckily tap water is very cheap because it takes about 3 times the amount of tap water to produce and fill 1 bottle of bottled water.

Sadly, it isn't just expensive and potentially lower quality to drink bottled water but there is an environmental impact that should be considered. Even though most major cities in America have made recycling available, only 1 in 5 water bottles ever gets recycled. Instead, 4 go to the trash dump to create about 3 billion pounds of waste just from all of the discarded plastic.

See as well the articles on the Royal Society of Chemistry site

Return to CHEM2402 course outline.

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Created August 2011. Links checked and/or last modified 13th April 2014.