Niagara Falls NY Water Board claims water better, safer than plastic bottled water
By Frank Parlato
The Niagara Falls Water Board has a new campaign.
“Our water is better than your water.”
Launched by board member Nick Forster, he has set out to revolutionize the drinking habits of people in Niagara Falls.
Who knows? He may wind up changing the world. Using Niagara Falls – the symbol for the world for fresh water – as a backdrop, Forster is telling everyone: Our water is better than your water.
But is it?
The Reporter inspected the Niagara Falls water treatment plant and met with Forster, and the Board’s microbiologist Patrick Fama and Executive Director Ralph Porter to try to understand what the hell Forster is talking about.
The water coming out of taps in homes in Niagara Falls comes from the Niagara River. How could it be better than bottled waters like Poland Springs, Evian, Dasani and the rest?
“We have a very good flow of water,” Fama said. “You know where it’s coming from. We also know that bottled water is subject to far less stringent safety tests than tap water and is more likely to be contaminated. Water treated by the Niagara Falls Water Board is the most stringently tested in the world.”
But people who drink bottled water say theirs is safer.
“Tap water must be checked daily under a rigorous inspection regime, Fama said. “Bottled makers are only required to undertake monthly testing at source.”
At the plant, Raylnn Morrison, demonstrated how water is tested for Coliform bacteria. Tests are also made for chlorine residuals, fluoride, lead, copper and other minerals, metals or man-made chemicals.
There is no such stringent testing for bottled water, Fama said. Any of those chemicals could and often are in bottled water.
But millions of Americans can’t be wrong. The U.S. public goes through about 50 billion water bottles a year. The bottled-water industry has outpaced milk, coffee, and juice in number of gallons of drinks sold—putting it behind only beer and soda.
A survey showed the average American drinks 6 eight-ounce servings of water each day. Bottled water accounts for more than a third of those servings.
Bottled water is the world’s fastest growing beverage.
You rarely hear of any issues with bottled water.
“Every year the Department of Health inspects our plant and we’re rated as exemplary,” Executive Director Porter said. “We got an excellent report this year and the year before.”
Stephan Kay of the International Bottled Water Association says that bottled water is safe also.
Kay said, “In the United States, bottled water is regulated as a packaged food product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It meets specific standards of quality and safety from the source all the way though the finished product.”
But standards are higher for tap water, Porter said.
“In the U.S., tap water is federally regulated and screened for pollutants,’ Porter said.
“The amount of arsenic and heavy metals in bottled water are far higher than in our tap water,” Fama said. “We do 1800 analyses of our water per month. Our water has no copper or lead in it.”
But bottlers of water capitalize on consumer concerns about municipal water supplies. The demand for bottled water is via an association with pristine environs like Poland Springs, Evian or Fiji. How could Fiji water not be better than water taken from the Niagara and treated in a plant?
And what about chlorine?
“Niagara Falls tap water contains trace amounts of chlorine that prevent the spread of bacterial infections,” Fama said. “Bottled water has no chlorine. But after a bottle of water is opened, it has no way of remaining sterile and should be drunk within days.”
Then there is fluoride.
“Bottled water does not have fluoride,” Fama said. “There have been studies that suggest that, since the advent of bottled water, tooth decay has gone up. Niagara Falls adds fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.”
There is perhaps a bigger concern.
“We need to talk about plastic bottles,” Forster said.
A study released last week by microplastic researcher Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia found that bottled water is “widely contaminated” with plastic particles.
Researchers tested plastic bottles of water in USA, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, and Thailand.
Plastic was identified in the water of 93 percent of samples, which included Aqua, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestle Pure Life and San Pellegrino.
People are drinking plastic from bottles and fragments of the bottle caps, the study revealed. Some 65 percent of the particles were fragments and not fibers.
“When you’re drinking bottled water you’re drinking plastic,” Forster said, adding, ‘our water is better than theirs.”
The bottlers of water say that plastic may not be a problem. The risk to human health posed by drinking pieces of plastic remains unclear.
Some scientists say there is a link to higher incidences of cancer, lower sperm count, increases in ADHD and autism. Many plastic bottles are made of polycarbonate plastic that contain bisphenol A, a chemical linked to reproductive problems and heart disease.
The Fredonia study concluded: Tap water, by and large, is much safer than bottled water.
But representatives from the bottled water industry fired back at the study.
It is “not based on sound science.” According to a statement from the International Bottled Water Association, “There is no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of microplastic particles. The data on the topic is limited and conclusions differ dramatically from one study to another.”
One thing is certain and not in dispute. Drinkers of bottled water are drinking plastic.
On average, plastic particles in the 100 micron (0.10 millimeter) size range — considered “microplastics” — were found at an average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter. Smaller particles were more common — averaging 325 per liter.
“I don’t like plastic in my drinking water,” Forster said.
Bottled water sells for about 1,000 times the price of tap water.
Porter calculated the cost of Niagara Falls tap water to be 00.04 cents per gallon. Plastic water costs from 15 cents to more than a dollar per bottle.
Still, if money is no object, and you don’t believe drinking bits of plastic in every swig will hurt you, there is another reason you might want to switch to tap water.
“You drink a bottle and throw it away and the petrochemical-based compound takes hundreds of years to decompose,” Porter said.
Most plastic produced for bottled water, since the beginning of plastic bottles, still exist on the planet. And more than 80 percent of plastic bottles end up in landfills each year.
Imagine the idea that for every drink of water, people create a plastic bottle as waste and throw it out somewhere.
Even recycling presents a problem. As bottles are reused, they leach chemicals such as DEHA, a possible human carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disruptor.
Because plastic is porous you’ll likely get a swill of harmful bacteria with each gulp, if you reuse plastic bottles.
Fama recommends reusable containers made of stainless steel.
Meantime, a million plastic bottles are produced and sold every minute, creating a potential environmental crisis.
The demand, about 20,000 bottles every second, is driven by a desire for bottled water.
More than 5 million tons of plastic leaks into the oceans each year to be ingested by birds, fish and other organisms.
If people don’t stop using plastic bottles there will soon be more plastic in the oceans by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
It is also finding its way into the food chain.
Scientists at Ghent University calculated that people who regularly eat seafood consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic every year – without drinking plastic bottled water.
In addition, scientists warn that plastic bottles are overrunning beaches and coastlines, endangering wildlife. Scientists found nearly 18 tons of plastic on a remote uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific. Another study found remote Arctic beaches polluted with plastic.
So what can we conclude?
Drinking bottled water pollutes the environment, is filled with bits of plastic, might contain lead, arsenic, bacteria and costs 1000 times more than tap water which has none of these.
Our water may be better than yours, is a nice idea to try to persuade people to drink tap water.
But since you started reading this some 5 million people bought plastic bottled water.
And around here, in the place where a waterfalls is the greatest symbol of fresh water in the world, maybe the people will make a difference.
Our water is better than yours, Foster says.
He might be right. Dead on in fact.