In 1979, 1 started drinking bottled water. My bottles, however, contained tap
and were nestled in small cages on the frame of my racing bicycle.
Tap water was good enough then because
we did not know how much healthier
and tastier bottled water is. It must be, because Americans today spend more
than $7 billion a year on it,
paying 120 to 7,500 times as much per gallon for
bottled water as for tap. Bottled prices range from 75 cents to $6 a gallon,
versus tap prices that vary from about 80 cents to $6.40 per 1,000
We wouldn't invest that for nothing, would we?
Apparently we would. In March 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) published the results of a four-year study in which they tested more than
1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, finding that "an estimated 25
percent or more of bottled water is really just
tap water in a bottle—sometimes
further treated, sometimes not." If
the label says "from a municipal source"
or "from a community water system," it's tap water.
Even more disturbing, the NRDC found that 18 of the 103 brands tested had, in at
least one sample, "more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity
guidelines." About one fifth of the waters "contained synthetic organic
chemicals—such as industrial chemicals (e.g., toluene or xylene) or chemicals used in
manufacturing plastic (e.g., phthalate, adipate, or styrene)," but
these were "generally at levels below
state and federal standards." The
International Bottled Water Association issued a response to the NRDC study
in which it
"Close scrutiny of the water quality standards for chemical contaminants
reveals that [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's| bottled water quality
standards are the same as [the Environmental Protection Agency's]
standards. " Well, that's a relief, but in paying exceptional prices one might
One problem is that bottled water is subject to less rigorous
and less frequent tests for bacteria and chemical contaminants than those
required of tap water. For example, bottled-water plants must test for
coliform bacteria once a week;
city tap water must be tested 100 or more
times a month.
If bottled water is not safer (a 2001 World Wildlife Fund study
corroborated the general findings of the NRDC), then surely it tastes
better? It does ... as long as you believe in your brand. Enter the water-wars
hype. Pepsi introduced Aquafina, so Coke countered with Dasani, a
brand that included a "Wellness Team"
Johnny and Elite, the
"stress relief facilitator," "fitness trainer"
"lifestyle counselor," respectively)
on its Web site. Both companies charge more for their plain water than for their sugar
When the test is hidden, however, the hype falls on deaf taste
buds. In May 2001
ABC's Good Morning America
viewers' preferences to be Evian (12 percent),
percent), Poland Spring (24 percent) and
New York City tap
In July 2001
the Cincinnati Enquirer discovered that on a
l-to-10 scale, that city's tap water rated an 8.2, compared
with Dannon's 8.3
and Evian's 7.2. In 2001 the Yorkshire, England, water company found that 60
of 2,800 people
surveyed could not tell the difference between the
local tap water and the U.K.'s bottled waters.
The most telling taste test was
conducted by the Showtime television series
Penn & Teller:
Bullshit'. The hosts began with a blind comparison in which 75 percent of
New Yorkers preferred city tap to bottled waters. They then went ro the Left
Coast and set up ahidden camera at a trendy southern California restaurant that
featured a water sommelier who dispensed elegant water menus to the patrons.
bottles were filled out of the same hose in the back of the restaurant; nevertheless,
Angelenos were willing
down nearly $7a bottle
forI.'eau Du Robinet (French for "faucet water"),
de Culo (Spanish for "ass water") and Amazon ("filtered through the Brazilian
rain forest's natural filtration system"),
declaring them all to be far superior to tap
water.There's no accounting for taste.
Bottled water does have one advantage
over tap: you can take it with you
you go. So why not buy one bottle of each desirable si/e and
refill it with your
city's finest unnaturally filtered yet salubriously delicious tap water?