How safe is bottled water?

Tue, 08/16/2005 - 00:00
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In an old, forgotten Philippine tradition a suitor would fetch water from an open well or river to bring to the woman he loved as a sign of his devotion. Nowawdays, romance has become more portable and pedestrian: a man would simply bring a brand of bottled water and think nothing of it.

The fact is, water has become more and more a commodity than just a basic necessity. Ironically, it's an expensive commodity. "From being a generic natural resource, water has been processed, packed, labeled, and branded," wrote Senen U Reyes, senior management specialist of the Center for Food and Agribusiness, University of Asia and the Pacific. "Thus, water has become more expensive and more precious than ever with potable water becoming a scarce resource."

It's certainly true here. "The image of a water-rich Philippines is a mirage," The result showed that 42 our of 52 water sources in Laguna have bacteriological population above the required standard of the environment departmentsaid Gregory C. Ira, former head of the 'Water equity in the lifescape and landscape' study of the Silang-based International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.

"We live in a water-challenged world, one that is becoming more so each year as 80 million additional people stake their claims to the Earth's water resources," notes Lester R. Brown, head of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute.

Filipinos consume 310 to 507 cubic meters of water daily, but not everyone has access to the commodity. Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) showed only 76.3 percent of the more than 13.923 million households nationwide have access to safe water supply and around 69.3 percent have sanitary toilets.

A study conducted by the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines found out that one-third of the households in the slum districts of Metro Manila drink water contaminated with waste. In 2003, five people died and more than 500 residents in Tondo were brought to hospitals due to polluted water.

Sicknesses like this could account for why bottled water is taking off here.. "Notwithstanding its high cost, bottled water is enjoying brisk sales," reports Sixto E. Tolentino, Jr., of the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "The public would rather tighten their belts than jeopardize their health."

Consumers across the globe now spend about US$35 billion a year on bottled water. And although its contents might appear the same everywhere, bottled water essentially comes in three different forms: natural mineral water, spring water, and purified water.

Under the European Union's definition, natural mineral water is "microbiologically wholesome water, originating in an underground water table or deposit and emerging from a spring tapped at one or more natural or bore exits."

In the United States, however, the Food and Drug Administration defines natural mineral water as having 250 parts per million total dissolved solids and deriving from a protected underground water source. Spring water, in contrast, need not have a constant mineral composition and is usually cheaper. Purified water, also called drinking water, is taken from lakes, rivers, or underground springs and has been treated - making it almost identical to tap water.

In the Philippines, bottled water comes in various sizes. Those in in retail outlets and supermarkets ramge from 320 ml to 6000 ml. This has created business phenomenon: water refilling stations. There are an estimated 3,000 "water stores" nationwide, many of them inside affluent villages and subdivisions.

How really safe is bottled water? A couple of years back, the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), a research agency of the Department of Science and Technology, conducted a study entitled 'Assessment of the Microbiological Population of Hot Spring Water in Laguna Province' to determine how safe spring waters are.

The result showed that 42 our of 52 water sources in Laguna have bacteriological population above the required standard of the environment department. The NRCP study said that 10 sources gave positive results for Escherichia coli and 42 water samples mostly grew numerous amounts of coliforms. It also found out that the samples the researchers got from 10 water sources have a significant number of molds and yeast growing in the water culture.

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