Bottled and Sold, a book about the bottled water industry

1858_gleickbottlecatalogue.jpgThere was a time in my life when I used to buy cases of bottled water to keep in my kitchen pantry to carry around throughout the day. When I moved to San Francisco, I realized that people usually have their own refillable water bottles. So I invested in a stainless steel 750ml Camelbak, and carry it around everywhere I go.

A new book by the Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick, called Bottled & Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, reaffirms my belief that bottled water = bad. Not just bad for the environment, but maybe even bad for you. (And a lot of times, it's just ridiculously expensive filtered tap water: see The Story of Bottled Water video for deets.) Consider this excerpt from his book:

When tap water is contaminated, the story is usually carried on the news that evening because water agencies are required to report it to the public and take quick action to correct the problem. Because the frequency of testing for bottled water is much lower and the reporting requirements are less strict, the discovery of contaminated bottled water may occur days or weeks after the product has been delivered to markets and sold — if it is discovered at all. Even more astounding, if bottled water is found to be contaminated, there is no requirement that it be automatically recalled. If contamination is discovered in bottled water, the bottler is required to take actions to "remove or reduce" the contamination but is under no obligation to inform the public or recall the tainted product.

As an example, Gleick tells us about how he tried to track down public records for a voluntary recall by Ethos Spring Water. Ethos is sold at Starbucks, and in 2005, the company found that it had excessive levels of bromate in it — but Gleick had a really hard time finding records of this recall in the FDA's database. After conducting some more investigations, he found that

bottles have been found to contain mold, sodium hydroxide, kerosene, styrene, algae, yeast, tetrahydrofuran, sand, fecal coliforms and other forms of bacteria, elevated chlorine, "filth," glass particles, sanitizer, and, in my very favorite example, crickets.

Fecal coliforms! Crickets! Bottled and Sold is chock full of information about how clean different types of water really are, and digs deep into the marketing of water has taken over actual knowledge. It's a fun and informative read.