Bottled water taps into health angst
It's safe, but where does it come from?
In this story:
November 28, 1997
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST (0100 GMT)
From Correspondent Natalie Pawelski
TIGER, Georgia (CNN) -- The family that owns Pleasant Springs Farm here used to raise cattle, but they kept falling into small, hidden caves. It didn't do much for the cattle, but it proved to be the start of a new business.
"When we looked down in there, there was a stream of water," says Dr. Terrell L. Davis. "A friend of mine said that oughta be tested to see if you can bottle it. That's how it started."
"It" is the farm's new crop: bottled water.
Pleasant Springs' water found its way to the shelf where it joined numerous other brands of bottled water, a late-20th century phenomenon that was almost non-existent even two decades ago.
The government regulates bottled water -- both in small bottles purchased individually and those that are replacing the office water cooler -- as a food.
"The (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) inspectors and the Georgia Department of Agriculture can make surprise inspections at any time," says Beth Davis of Pleasant Springs Farm. "We never know when they're gonna come."
Surprises may lurk on the label
Bottlers also have to follow truth in labeling, and there are surprises lurking in some of the fine print on those labels.
Some bottles, for example, read "municipal water supply," meaning they are filled with regular tap water that has been filtered, bottled and sold for a lot more than it cost when it came out of the faucet.
"Spring water," on the other hand, means what it says, although not necessarily what it sounds like.
A visitor to Pleasant Springs Farm hoping to see the spring, for example, would find that the idyllic stream he or she envisioned is not only underground, but it has also been capped to prevent contamination. The only indications of its presence are some pipes where the underground spring breaks through the bedrock.
The water is piped from the underground stream to the plant where it is filtered and treated with ozone to keep it clean.
Bottlers monitor their water for bacteria and other problems, as do state and federal inspectors. And aside from a couple of scares over the presence of benzene, a solvent, and a few other problems, bottled water has had a good safety record.
Some water high in sodium
Whether one should drink it is another matter.
"If you live in places where there are known contaminants and where water systems have been condemned because of environmental spills of various sorts -- maybe a chemical factory used to be over that site, for instance -- then it's obviously an advantage to have bottled water," says Prof. Dickson Despommier of the Columbia University School of Public Health. "Then you're obliged to drink it. "
It may also be good for those whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or AIDS.
"It's recommended that those people drink specially treated water, particularly filtered and perhaps even distilled water," Despommier said.
It is also recommended that those with high blood pressure read the label carefully before drinking bottled water. Some of them are naturally high in sodium.