This piece was cross posted on Proactive Black Parenting.
With all of this talk about childhood obesity and healthy living, it seems like the right move to give your child a bottle of water– a bottle in his or her school lunch; a bottle after school and another one after the soccer game. To be certain, water is the better choice—better than soda, sports drinks and even better than juice. Black parents have bought into the bottled water craze in a big way. But does a commitment to water necessitate an allegiance to the disposable water bottle?
A recent study reported in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that African American and Latino parents were more likely to give their children mostly bottled water, and that children of color were exclusively given bottled water 3 times more often than White children. The consumption of bottled water is no small matter in the U.S. Americans purchase 50 billion water bottles every year and the bottled-water industry has outpaced milk, coffee, and juice in number of gallons of drinks sold— tailing behind only beer and soda.
This demand for bottled water has had (and continues to have) an enormous impact on our environment and our health. Plastic water bottles are petroleum products. In order to produce the bottles to meet our demand, over 17 million barrels of oil are required and more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide are produced. In addition, according to the Seirra Club, when bottled-water companies attain water by pumping groundwater, they are drawing heavily on underground aquifers and harming watersheds. According to some estimates, as reported by in this National Geographic article, it takes up to three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.
And where do all of those empty (and half empty) water bottles go? The Container Recycling Institute estimates more than 80% of plastic bottles end up in landfills or incinerators. We have all seen how water bottles litter our roadsides, waterways and beaches. Well, that litter represents hundreds of millions of plastic bottles nationwide that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year for cleanup and disposal. However, what we know is that those plastic bottles never really go away. They become a permanent part of our landscape and our oceans.
The study, Perceptions About Water and Increased Use of Bottled Water in Minority Children, by Drs. Gorelick, Gould, Nimmer, Wagner, Heath, Bashir and Brousseau, disclosed that most of the African-American and Latino respondents relied on bottled water because they believed that bottled water was “cleaner, safer, healthier, more convenient and better tasting than tap.” Since many families of color tend to live in urban centers, which frequently include older homes and multi-family dwellings (like apartments), it makes sense that they might have a heightened concern about the water they consume. Older, lower-quality dwellings in more densely populated areas present higher water quality risks for lead and other contaminants. Water quality is a more pressing concern for these families. And even though municipal water quality is highly regulated, there are still issues with water quality that are cause for concern. Lead is just one example of a water pollutant that poses greater risk for underrepresented populations. And we know that neighborhoods of color suffer greater exposure to air pollutants, and thus will likely see these same pollutants impacting their water- like heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and selenium.
So the disparity in trust found among African-American and Latino populations with regard to drinking water safety is somewhat justifiable. However, the reliance on bottled water is not.
Studies have established for some time now that bottled water is no safer or cleaner than tap water. The Environmental Working Group’s 2008 investigation found that every bottle of water examined had some form of chemical contaminant, including disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue, pain medication and untested industrial chemicals. The authors of the Gorelick, Gould, et.al study pointed out that bottled water may be prone to bacterial contamination. They cited a National Resources Defense Council investigation that found that “17% of bottled waters had bacterial loads that were considered unsafe,” and that “22% were tainted with enough chemicals, including arsenic, that they wouldn’t pass the strictest state standards.” Even more disturbing, the researchers cited a 2010 study that found that 45% of children who sought treatment for severe diarrhea drank only bottled water. If this is not enough to shake our belief in the superiority of bottled water, we should also note that one-quarter of all bottled waters are actually repackaged tap water, even when they say mountain spring water on their labels.
Studies have also established that the plastics used to produce water bottles pose potential health risks. You’d have to live under a rock not to have heard that harmful toxins, like antimony, from the plastic leach into the water and pose risks of illness.
The sum total of information regarding bottled water makes it clear that bottled water is far from being the safe alternative for us or the environment. And yet so many consumers continue to pay handsomely for water of lesser quality than the free water from their own taps. This is both discouraging and maddening when you consider that for the respondents of the Gorelick, Gould, et.al study are paying on average a hefty 1% of their household income for bottled water. One-percent just for water!
It makes sense to want to assure that your family consumes clean, pure water. But do you know the condition of your tap water? Do you know where your bottled water comes from? There are steps we can to take to provide clean, safe water for our families, without spending our individual incomes and our collective resources on bottled water. Below are steps you can take to educate yourself about your tap water and clean water options:
– Before you assume the worse, find out about the quality of your tap water. According to the EPA’s website: “Since 1999, water suppliers have been required to provide annual Consumer Confidence Reports to their customers. These reports are due by July 1 each year, and contain information on contaminants found in the drinking water, possible health effects, and the water’s source. Some Consumer Confidence Reports are available at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm.” If your report is not available online, you can contact your water supplier to get a copy.
– Have your household plumbing tested. If you know your dwelling is over 30 years old, the plumbing very likely contains lead. If your household plumbing has copper pipes less than 5 years old, the solder used may very well be lead, which can leach into your water.Join the effort to keep your water supply safe and clean. Go here to see what community action you can take on behalf of your water.
– If you know or suspect that your water contains lead, the EPA recommends the following precautions.
- Do NOT boil water to attempt to reduce lead. Boiling water increases lead concentration.
- Always use water from the cold tap for preparing baby formula, cooking, and drinking.
- Flush pipes first by running the water before using it. Allow the water to run until it’s cold.
- If you have high lead levels in your tap water, talk to your health care provider about alternatives to using boiled water in baby formula.
Air pollution greatly impacts water quality, too. Pollutants released into the air will eventually make their way to the earth’s surface, and thus it’s land and water ways. Join us at the Mom’s Clean Air Force and help protect your children’s (and all children’s) right to clean air and water.