Laura Moser takes readers' questions on the bottled-water debate.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Aug. 23 2007 4:30 PM

Hard To Swallow?

Laura Moser wades into the debate over bottled water.

Slate contributor Laura Moser was online at Washingtonpost.com on Thursday, Aug. 23, to chat with readers about the health and environmental concerns with bottled water and the best reusable water bottles.

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Fairfax, Va.: Laura, thanks for the discussion on bottled water. I'd just like to say something about your comment today about bottled water being poorly regulated. I work in the bottled water industry, and by law, FDA bottled water standards must be at least as stringent and protective of the public health as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tap water regulations—comparing bottled water to D.C. water, which routinely has problems, is a travesty.

Laura Moser: The Natural Resource Defense Council's massive four-year study of bottled water concluded that the FDA sets a much lower bar on bottled water than the EPA does on municipal tap. It's tested far less frequently, and many brands (those packaged and sold inside a single state) are exempt from the FDA's regulations. Yes, D.C. tap water routinely has problems, but that's the exception to the rule—besides, at least D.C. residents have easy access to information about the contaminants in their water...

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Washington: How do I know what kind of plastic a bottle is made of?

Laura Moser: Look on the bottom of the container—there should be a little triangle with a number inside it. Charts about what exactly those numbers mean are ubiquitous on the Internet (like, uh, everything else, I suppose).

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Great Falls, Va.: I have used Nalgene bottles for years! Why have I never heard of this Lexan nonsense? Are my hormones messed up?

Laura Moser: I'll swallow my corporate conspiracy-theorist answer for the moment and just say, if you look, you can find plenty of info about the BPA/polycarbonate/Lexan debate—I believe there were even congressional hearings on the subject?

If you're devoted to Nalgene, take a look at an article the Green Guide did on the potential risks of the bottles, and possible alternatives to them. The risks might be insubstantial (still lots of question-marks on the science end of things), but again, why take risks at all?

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Washington: There was an interesting article in the Time Magazine a few months ago on efforts to expand bottle bills. Right now, I don't think any state with a bottle bill charges a deposit on bottled water (or other non-carbonated drinks). We don't have a bottle bill here in Washington, but you do up in New York. Do you think that if you had to pay a deposit on each bottle of water you bought, it would change the water-buying habits of you or your friends?

washingtonpost.com: The Unintended Consequences of Hyperhydration(New York Times, May 27)

Laura Moser: Probably, but then, we're paying so much for water anyway, what's an extra nickel or so? I certainly think that if we received a nickel for every PETE bottle we returned, our recycling habits would change dramatically overnight.

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Laura Moser: Thanks so much, and I'm sorry that I didn't get to answer everyone's questions! There are plenty of government websites that can address all of your concerns about the bottled-versus-tap debate...