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Bottled water not so pure

October 15, 2008 |  5:24 pm

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Bottled water isn't necessarily any purer than the water you get from your tap, it's just more expensive, according to a report released Wednesday by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit research group.

The Environmental Working Group sent samples of 10 major bottled-water brands to the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory. The results: 38 low-level contaminants turned up in the water, with each brand containing an average of eight chemicals. Disinfection products, caffeine, Tylenol, nitrate, industrial chemicals, arsenic and bacteria were detected.

Two brands contained disinfection products at levels that exceeded California's bottled-water standards, according to the report. Bottles of Wal-Mart's Sam's Choice bought in the Bay Area contained trihalomethanes, which form when naturally occurring materials in water combine with chlorine. The chemicals, which have been linked to cancer and miscarriages, are also found in tap water.

Indeed, EWG said the lab analyses showed that the Wal-Mart water and a brand sold on the East Coast (but not in California) by the Giant supermarket chain were "chemically indistinguishable from tap water. The only striking difference: the price tag."

The organization is filing a lawsuit in state court alleging that Wal-Mart should have disclosed another contaminant, bromodichloromethane, under California's Proposition 65. In an e-mail Wednesday, a Wal-Mart representative said the company stood behind the quality of its bottled water. "Both our suppliers' tests and the tests from an additional external laboratory are not showing any reportable amounts of chlorine or chlorine by-products."

Olga Naidenko, an EWG senior scientist, said her group was not suggesting that bottled water was more polluted than tap water — but it may not be any better.

In a 1999 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council arrived at a similar conclusion.

In a release, the International Bottled Water Assn. said the EWG report was alarmist and did not involve a representative sample of bottled water.

— Bettina Boxall

Photo: Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett pours a bottle of water over his head at training camp in Newport, R.I., last month. Photo credit: Charles Krupa /Associated Press

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