If the trace pharmaceuticals and the spectre of a near-indestructible gyre of swirling plastic the size of Texas weren't enough to scare you off bottled water, then try this: Canadian researchers have discovered that some bottled brands contain more bacteria than water that comes out of the tap.
Scientists at Montreal's C-crest Laboratories found that certain popular brands (which they refused to name) had "surprisingly high" counts of heterotrophic bacteria (meaning they need an organic source of carbon to flourish).
Even though they didn't find any serious pathogens, more than 70 percent of the well-known brands actually failed the standards for heterotrophic bacteria set by the NGO United States Pharmacopeia. According to them, bacteria per millilitre in drinking water should not exceed 500 colony forming units (cfu) - and compared to the sampled tap water average of 170 cfu per millilitre, some of the brands tested had a whopping 70,000 cfu per millilitre.
"Heterotrophic bacteria counts in some of the bottles were found to be in revolting figures of (100) times more than the permitted limit," said Sonish Azam, a researcher on the study, in a news release.
So while these findings would not pose a serious threat to healthy adults - pregnant women, young children and the elderly would need to watch out.
From the Montreal Gazette:
According to Azam, Health Canada hasn't set an allowable limit for heterotrophic bacteria in bottled water, and neither has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
[..] Health Canada points out that bottled water is already regulated under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.
"Under these regulations, bottled water is required to be free of disease-causing organisms. Like most foods, bottled water may contain naturally occurring bacteria which typically have little or no health significance," it said in a statement.
The researchers emphasize that the point was not to single out any brand, but to bring about stricter safety regulations on bottled water sold in Canada.
"Bottled water is not expected to be free from micro-organisms but the (colony forming unit count) observed in this study is surprisingly very high," Azam explained. "Therefore, it is strongly recommended to establish a limit for the heterotrophic bacteria count as well as to identify the nature of micro-organisms present in the bottled water."
Let's hope that happens soon. In the meantime, it's yet another reason to eschew the bottle and find some alternatives.