Bottled Water Idiocy


(This 945th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 3, 2009.)


I detest the very idea of bottled water.


Think about it. You pay a dollar or more for a plastic bottle filled with water that is very often less pure than the water in the adjacent drinking fountain or any nearby tap. And at just one bottle a day, that represents $365 each year. In fact, recent statistics indicate that we in this country spend $15 billion annually on this upscale idiocy. We could go some distance down the road toward universal health care with those kinds of dollars. But would these nothing drinkers contribute to such a worthwhile fund? Hell no. They would institute a tax revolt.


This fad represents Yuppiness of the highest order. It is worse than the pet rocks of the 1970s with their associated "Pet Rock Training Manual." At least those did little harm.


Drinking bottled water, on the other hand, does do us very real harm. The bottles contribute to the serious environmental problems we have with their disposal and the bottling plants draw so much water that they are draining some of our already threatened ground aquifers.


Now the outstanding journalist, Janet Raloff of Science News, tells us: "Researchers in Frankfurt, Germany, have just reported evidence suggesting that estrogen-mimicking chemicals can leach out of certain plastic bottles. Disturbing as that is, their data indicates that the mineral water dispensed in some glass bottles may also contain such hormonelike pollution — and not because it leached out of the glass."


Shanna Swan, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry adds her concern about the processing of bottled water though the polyvinyl chloride tubing that is widely used by industry. Mineral water pumped through PVC piping can pick up bisphenol-A, organotin and phthalates. All of those materials have an estrogenic alter ego.


Raloff also tells how endocrinologist Ana Soto of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston was collaborating with someone looking for potential hormone-like pollutants in Massachusetts Bay. Soto's collaborator tested a few clean samples first. They were laced with a "stratospheric" amount of estrogen. Chagrinned, the researcher filtered out the plastics and the next samples came back estrogen free. Soto says she's found out the hard way that unless a liquid is kept in glass or ceramic containers, it risks coming into contact with some estrogenic mimic as it travels through pipes, is filtered or heated.


Let's review here. What's wrong with estrogens? Are they really so bad? In excess they contribute to a few women's problems: breast, ovarian and uterine cancers; menopausal and menstrual disfunctions including migraine headaches and nausea, cramping and bloating; PMS and PCOS. Those seem bad to me.


Do you read those threats with a sense of déjà vu? Don't they sound like the cigarette warnings that were pooh-poohed for years until they could no longer be countered by industry misinformation?


I drink lots of water and I am most pleased that we here in Buffalo are well served by our water quality and taste. We owe that in part to our extensive water reservoirs in Lakes Ontario and Erie as well as (for Rochester) Hemlock and Canadice Lakes, but also to the care taken by the Buffalo Water Authority's water treatment program.


That is not always the case. There are areas where local well water tastes and smells simply awful and sinks end up blackened with sulfur deposits. And we have soldiers serving overseas in deserts where water must be shipped in. In those regions there is a far stronger case for bottled water, hopefully in glass or ceramic containers. Here it is simply nonsensical.


Having said that, I admit that I too am at fault. I drink too much carbonated beverage. For Lent I gave up diet cokes and have consumed few since that season ended. Those drinks, little more than water with a teaspoon or two of flavoring added, too often also come in plastic bottles.


So I am going to do something that you might consider. I am going to put a dollar aside each time I refuse a bottled drink and I will contribute those dollars to WNED. I hope you'll join me.-- Gerry Rising