A Year in the Life of Bottled Water

In the year since the last International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) convention and tradeshow, there has been increased media, public and governmental scrutiny on a variety of bottled water issues. IBWA continues to work to proactively keep its members and the general public up to date on these matters and defend the interests of the bottled water industry.

Environmental Issues in the Spotlight

The bottled water industry continues to face unwarranted and unprecedented criticism from activist groups and certain media outlets concerning the alleged environmental impact of our products. In addition, many of these same organizations (and others) continue to make false claims about the comprehensive regulation and safety of bottled water. As a result of these actions, bottled water companies are being threatened with unfavorable governmental activity at the federal, state and local level. IBWA has been aggressively defending the bottled water industry against all negative proposals and proactively communicating the facts about bottled water to the media, government officials and others.

This issue will continue to be a problem for our industry for the foreseeable future. It is clear that there is a war being waged against our products and the future of the bottled water industry is at stake. IBWA is therefore significantly increasing its level of government, communications, media and other activities to deal with this serious threat to the bottled water industry.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Resolution

On June 23, 2008, at its annual meeting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) adopted Resolution 70, misleadingly titled “Supporting Municipal Water Systems.” The resolution “encourages cities to phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and promote the importance of municipal water.”

The bottled water industry was able to secure a single amendment at the end of the resolution, which states, “The Conference of Mayors recognizes the importance of bottled water in times of emergency and times when municipal water is unavailable.”

IBWA is disappointed that the USCM and some of its members have once again chosen to denigrate bottled water, especially given the extensive education the bottled water industry gave these individuals during the past year.

Throughout the year-long outreach campaign, USCM staff and mayors were thoroughly educated on the importance of bottled water with regard to health and economics, as well as the work of the bottled water industry to achieve environmental friendliness and sustainability—all in an effort to urge those mayors not to follow the lead of a few other cities that have prohibited or restricted the purchase of bottled water by city government.

In the end, however, aggressive lobbying of the mayors by anti-bottled water organizations paid off for our critics, and even an alternative industry-supported resolution encouraging comprehensive recycling, sustainability and water infrastructure positions, which mayors and the industry could have mutually supported, was soundly rejected by opposition mayors.

National Recycling Partnership

On March 17, 2008, IBWA was part of the official launch of the National Recycling Partnership’s (NRP) “Model Cities” pilot project in Hartford, Conn. Announced at a press event on the steps of City Hall and attended by Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, local government and agency officials and NRP members, the Hartford pilot project is a one-year program called “Go Green Use Blue.”

The program will demonstrate the effectiveness of community education and implementation of single-stream recycling to achieve the mayor’s goal of increasing recycling in Hartford from 10% to 60% during the course of the program.

IBWA was a founding member of the NRP in 2006, which is also comprised of the National Recycling Coalition, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Food Marketing Institute, the American Beverage Association and the Beer Wholesalers Association. NRP has a two-pronged mission: to educate consumers about recycling and steer pilot curbside recycling programs in four cities, aimed at increasing the recycling rate.

House Subcommittee Hearing

IBWA presented testimony on Dec. 12, 2007, to the U.S. House of Representatives Domestic Policy Subcommittee Government Reform and Oversight Committee on the bottled water industry’s minimal use of groundwater resources. The bottled water industry accounts for only 0.02% (2/100 of 1%) of all groundwater withdrawals in the U.S.

IBWA member bottlers recognize the critical importance of environmental conservation and stewardship of all water resources and employ conservation and stewardship practices in their use and management of groundwater resources.

As IBWA testimony stated: “Groundwater management laws and regulations must be comprehensive, science based, multijurisdictional, treat all users equitably and balance current uses with future needs. From the perspective of water management programs, the bottled water industry should be treated no differently than other beverage, food processing and manufacturing operations. If bottled water is produced according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, it is without question a product, and all products should be treated equally. To single out bottled water from other food products—not to mention thousands of other consumer products that use water as an ingredient or in production—will not further the sustainability of water resources and is not in the best interest of consumers.”

IBWA testimony also stated: “Based on our experiences in the states, it is very clear that there is a need for more and better data on the aquifers throughout the U.S. in order to assist state authorities in managing available water resources. We think that this is an area where the federal government can play an important role. As a result, IBWA supports the enactment of HR 135, which would establish the 21st Century Water Commission to make recommendations on how to ensure a comprehensive water resource strategy in the U.S.”

Pharmaceuticals in Tap Water

In the wake of an April Associated Press article and other news reports on pharmaceuticals found in drinking water, IBWA immediately issued a press statement affirming the safety and quality of bottled water produced in accordance with FDA standards and noted that pharmaceuticals and other substances are not a health risk in these products.

Stephen C. Edberg, Ph.D., Yale University School of Medicine, who was quoted in the IBWA press release, stated: “The technical and safety measures used to produce and process bottled water are very effective in protecting the product from these and other substances that were reported in the article, should they be present in source water to begin with. This report raises no concern for the safety of bottled water.”

BPA & Polycarbonates

Recent media stories and a statement issued by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have raised questions about the safety of polycarbonate plastic bottles due to the presence of a substance known as bisphenol A (BPA). Polycarbonate plastic is used in a wide variety of consumer products, including food and drink containers. Many 3- and 5-gal bottled water containers are made of polycarbonate plastic and consumers can remain confident about the safety of these products.

IBWA regularly informs its membership and public via e-mail alerts, articles and press advisories on the objective scientific conclusions about the safety of BPA. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated as a food product by the FDA. Plastic food and beverage containers, including polycarbonate plastic made with BPA, must meet or exceed all FDA requirements.

FDA clears all food-contact plastics for their intended use based on migration and safety data. The clearance process includes stringent requirements for estimating the levels at which such materials may transfer to the diet. FDA’s safety criteria require extensive toxicity testing for any substance that may be ingested at more than negligible levels. This means FDA has affirmatively determined that, when cleared plastics are used as intended in food-contact applications, the nature and amount of substances that may migrate, if any, are safe.

Polycarbonate plastic has been the material of choice for food and beverage product containers for nearly 50 years because it is lightweight, highly shatter-resistant and transparent. During that time, many studies have been conducted to assess the potential for trace levels of BPA to migrate from polycarbonate bottles into foods or beverages. The conclusions from those studies and comprehensive safety evaluations by government bodies worldwide are that polycarbonate bottles are safe for consumer use.

On April 14, 2008, FDA stated that the agency has “been reviewing the emerging literature on BPA on a continuous basis. For example, FDA has recently completed a review of the available biological fate data and two recently completed rodent multigeneration reproductive studies; these studies did not indicate a safety concern for BPA at current exposure levels. In addition, FDA is conducting a review of the data on neural and behavioral effects of BPA exposure.”

In July 2008, a new European Food Safety Authority study reconfirmed conclusions by the FDA that BPA is safe at the levels found in food packaging.

DWRF Holds Initial Congressional Briefing

The Drinking Water Research Foundation (DWRF) held its first Congressional briefing on “Drinking Water Issues—Safety and Quality of Public Drinking Water, Bottled Water and Filtered Water.” Stephen Edberg, Ph.D, A.B.M.M., DWRF Trustee and professor at Yale University School of Medicine, provided Congressional staff with a presentation of the differences between public drinking water, bottled water and filtered water. Edberg showed attendees the differences in source, treatment, distribution and health impacts of the three drinking water types and cited the benefits and challenges for each.

Edberg noted that public water systems are faced with a decaying infrastructure, which can have a health impact. The effects of pressure changes within the distribution system can cause environmental intrusion and adverse health effects. He cited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 16.4 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness in 2006 associated with tap water contamination.

On bottled water distribution, Edberg said the regulation of bottled water as a food product provides consumers with an added layer of protection. It is produced in a sealed container and lot code, which permits it to be recalled. There has only been about one bottled water recall a year over the last decade, he told attendees. Edberg stated the Centers for Disease Control has associated bottled water with less than 10 incidents resulting in possible cases of illness in the past 35 years.

Litigation Filed to Overturn Chicago Bottled Water Tax

On Jan. 4, 2008, IBWA filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., to invalidate a regressive and punitive $0.05 per container tax on bottled water sold in the city of Chicago. Other plaintiffs in the suit are the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the Illinois Food Retailers Association and the American Beverage Association.

The Chicago bottled water tax ordinance was adopted by the Chicago City Council on Nov. 13, 2007, as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2008 budget. This five-cent tax on every bottle of water sold at retail outlets in Chicago, effective Jan. 1, 2008, is required to be collected and remitted by “each wholesale bottled water dealer located in the city.”

The claimed purpose of the tax is environmental but no money is earmarked for that purpose.

Bottled Water Matters Coalition

IBWA launched the Bottled Water Matters Coalition and its website, www.bottledwatermatters.com. The coalition is an IBWA-sponsored program that delivers factual, favorable bottled water information directly to consumers and provides a channel through which consumers may voice their support for bottled water as their beverage of choice or need.

The program focuses on the use of online tools (such as the Internet, e-mail, blogs and message boards) and in the future, will expand to the use of social networking resources such as Facebook and MySpace. The site features a “Take Action” section with software that allows bottle water consumers to easily communicate with their elected officials online.

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About the author

Joe Doss is president of the International Bottled Water Association. Doss can be reached at 703.683.5213 or by e-mail at [email protected].