TOM STANDADGE, NY TIMES - Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today's high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry. Why has it become so popular?
It cannot be the taste, since most people cannot tell the difference in a blind tasting. Much bottled water is, in any case, derived from municipal water supplies, though it is sometimes filtered, or has additional minerals added to it.
Nor is there any health or nutritional benefit to drinking bottled water over tap water. In one study, published in The Archives of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland, and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria. The scientists concluded that "use of bottled water on the assumption of purity can be misguided." Another study carried out at the University of Geneva found that bottled water was no better from a nutritional point of view than ordinary tap water.
Admittedly, both kinds of water suffer from occasional contamination problems, but tap water is more stringently monitored and tightly regulated than bottled water. New York City tap water, for example, was tested 430,600 times during 2004 alone.
What of the idea that drinking bottled water allows you to avoid the chemicals that are sometimes added to tap water? Alas, some bottled waters contain the same chemicals anyway - and they are, in any case, unavoidable.
Researchers at the University of Texas found that showers and dishwashers liberate trace amounts of chemicals from municipal water supplies into the air. Squirting hot water through a nozzle, to produce a fine spray, increases the surface area of water in contact with the air, liberating dissolved substances in a process known as "stripping." So if you want to avoid those chemicals for some reason, drinking bottled water is not enough. You will also have to wear a gas mask in the shower, and when unloading the dishwasher.