For Immediate Release
Bottled Water Lobby’s Misinformation Campaign
IBWA Claims Tests Show No Contaminants, But Test Results Nowhere to Be Found
WASHINGTON - Yesterday, the lobby group for the bottled water industry used
untruths, misleading statements and claims that were outright wrong in
its attempt to dispel a study by Environmental Working Group (EWG) that found harmful chemicals in a number of popular U.S. brands.
Unfortunately, the list of false and misleading statements made by
the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is rather long, but
EWG prides itself on using the most accurate data in its research and
setting the record straight with most accurate information available.
IBWA: EWG tests show that two bottled water samples did not meet a California state standard for one regulated substance.
Fact: EWG tests show that three bottled water samples from two
cities exceeded limits for known and suspected carcinogens set by
California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (also known
as Proposition 65) and the California health code on two counts:
- One chemical, bromodichloromethane, which the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency has labeled a known carcinogen and which was found at
levels three to five times higher than California's Proposition 65
- A family of chemicals, trihalomethanes, which the EPA, California
authorities and other governmental and international bodies consider
cancer-causing by-products of municipal water treatment.
IBWA: The California requirement for trihalomethanes is eight
times lower than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standard
of quality for bottled water and the EPA maximum contaminant level for
Fact: The California safety standard for trihalomethanes is
more protective of California citizens than federal standards set more
than a decade ago. The EPA says that consumption of chemicals in this
family poses a risk for potential health effects, including "liver,
kidney or central nervous system problems; increased risk of cancer."
IBWA appears to have shifted its position overnight. Its initial
statement, above, released October 14, suggested that California's
safety standard for trihalomethanes is too high. But the next day, Joe
Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, was
quoted by MS-NBC as saying he would not defend any company that is
exceeding the standard in California. "If they have exceeded it, they
should meet it," he said, according to MS-NBC.
IBWA: The EWG report is based on the faulty premise that if
any substance is present in a bottled water product, even if it does
not exceed the established regulatory limit or no standard has been
set, then it's a health concern.
Fact: The EWG report clearly identifies the levels of
pollutants detected in bottled water samples and the federal and state
legal standards for those pollutants, but it also acknowledges that the
health effects of life-long exposure to this mixture of pollutants are
not known. EWG's position is that consumers have a right to know about
all the contaminants present in bottled water.
IBWA: EWG claims that the presence of bacteria, measured by
the HPC (heterotrophic plate count) method, is a contaminant. But these
levels did not exceed any state or federal standard, and bacteria are
commonly found at these same levels in many foods, with no adverse
Fact: EPA clearly states on its Safewater website
that the presence of bacteria, measured by the HPC method, serves as an
indicator of the overall hygiene at the production site. EWG measured
bacteria in the context of EPA's judgment that "the lower the
concentration of bacteria in drinking water, the better maintained the
water system is."
IBWA: The IBWA Code of Practice limit for trihalomethanes is
the same as the California standard. However, neither of the two brands
mentioned by the EWG was made by IBWA members. The decision to set the
IBWA standard at this level was made to ensure that IBWA members who
complied with its Code of Practice requirements would meet all state
and federal bottled water regulations.
Fact: This argument is simply spurious. IBWA cannot have it
both ways. It is consumer deception to say that IBWA members must meet
the 10 parts-per-billion California standard for trihalomethanes but
that it is perfectly fine for producers who are not members to sell a
product that fails the standard, in these cases quite dramatically. The
state of California has conducted rigorous risk assessments that are
the foundation of its drinking water standards. By adopting them, the
IBWA is implicitly endorsing the science that supports them and the
state of California's judgment that higher levels pose cancer risks
sufficient to require a warning under state law. The notion put forth
by IBWA that this standard is arbitrary and that outside of California
only bottled water produced by member companies must comply would be
laughable if it were not for the fact that the contaminants in question
are serious cancer-causing compounds. EWG welcomes IBWA's adoption of
the California standard for its own members. But until all IBWA members
label their products as complying with the high California/IBWA
standard, consumers have no idea whether they are buying a product made
by an IBWA member.
IBWA: IBWA supports a consumer's right to clear, accurate and
comprehensive information about the bottled water products they
purchase. All packaged foods and beverages, including bottled water,
are subject to extensive FDA labeling requirements that provide
consumers with a great deal of product quality information. In
addition, virtually all bottled water products include a phone number
on the label that consumers can use to contact the company.
Fact: It is not sufficient or relevant for bottled water to
meet the same standards as cookies and cake mix. Bottled water should
be held to the same disclosure provisions as tap water. Bottlers should
disclose on the label the source of the water, the specific filtration
method used, the frequency and type of contaminant testing conducted
and the results.
IBWA: Consumers should search for information not on the
label via a request to the bottler, and if the bottler declines to
provide that information, the consumer can choose another brand.
Fact: The IBWA's position is the same as EWG's: Buyer Beware
IBWA: Bottled water is not simply tap water in a bottle.
Bottled water companies that use municipal source water often treat and
purify the water, employing processes such as reverse osmosis and
distillation before it is bottled and delivered to consumers as a
packaged food product. The product will be labeled as "purified water,"
or alternatively, "reverse osmosis water" if it is treated by reverse
osmosis or "distilled water" if it treated by distillation. If bottled
water is sourced from a municipal water system and has not been further
treated, FDA requires the label to state that it is from a municipal or
community water system.
Fact: Consumers need to know the precise source of the water
they drink and the results of all contaminant testing. Simply naming a
type of treatment means nothing to the average consumer. By claiming to
use treatment, the companies can avoid disclosing the source of their
water. And there is nothing in the FDA rules to guarantee that the
bottler has used high-quality, effective treatment.
IBWA: In addition to federal and state regulations, members
of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) are required to
adhere to standards in the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice that, in
several cases, are stricter than FDA and state bottled water
regulations. The IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is enforced
through a mandatory, annual, unannounced plant inspection by an
independent, third party organization.
Fact: EWG supports IBWA's efforts to promote stricter
standards. But the IBWA does not represent the entire bottled water
industry and cannot vouch for the safety and purity of bottled water
produced by non-IBWA members. Since labels do not routinely disclose
IBWA membership, the consumer has no way to distinguish brands that
adhere to IBWA standards from those that do not.
IBWA: EWG was critical of the bottled water brands found to
contain fluoride, although the levels of fluoride found in the bottled
water tested by the EWG were in compliance with the FDA standards.
Fact: Neither the FDA nor other authorities offer a
one-size-fits-all safety standard for fluoride. The U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention warns that babies and young children who
consume too much fluoride can develop a form of permanent tooth damage
called enamel fluorosis and estimates that 1/3 of U.S. children 15 and
younger have this condition. CDC cautions against mixing infant formula concentrate with fluoridated water.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against giving fluoridated drinking water to infants younger than six months, and the American Dental Association
recommends formula made with fluoride-free water for babies less than 1
year old. Bottled water brands that do not disclose the presence of
fluoride deprive consumers of their right to know what is in the water
they buy for themselves and their families.
And finally, can the FDA ensure bottled water quality and purity? Not so much.
EWG's Investigation found that the FDA has rarely inspected
bottled water plants - and if it has, to date it has not published the
results. FDA's website acknowledges that "bottled water plants
generally are assigned low priority for inspection."
FDA regulations require bottled water manufacturers to test their
product once a week for microbiological contamination but only once a
year for chemical contaminants and once every four years for
radiological contamination. Bottlers that process and package tap water
can obtain a waiver of federal testing requirements by submitting the
water quality report from the municipal water supply that is the basis
for their product.
NOTE: The IBWA recently brought on board Tom Lauria, formerly
the top spin doctor for the tobacco industry. We detect Mr. Lauria's
fingerprints on IBWA's rebuttal to EWG's scientific testing. In our
view, he has had extensive experience distorting the facts and
misleading consumers in an attempt to hide the truth about the industry
that pays his salary.
What is IBWA trying to hide?
From the IBWA's website:
"The career of Tom Lauria, the new vice president for communications
of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), spans 25 years
in some of the more challenging media relations and public affairs jobs
- such as work he did for The Tobacco Institute.... In his new position,
Lauria oversees the editorial content for IBWA's Web site, IBWA's
Bottled Water Reporter bimonthly magazine and the weekly e-mail news
alert Splash. He also is responsible for development of IBWA's public
affairs outreach." IBWA, June 2008
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.