The “extraordinary saga” of Evian bottled water, according to the Danone Corporation, began in France in 1789, when the Marquis de Lessert drank spring water from the Evian-les-Bains.
His kidney stones were suddenly “cured,”, the town became famous, and over two centuries later, Evian has made billions selling bottled water with marketing campaigns centered on health, purity and eternal youth. Evian is now one of the pricer brands of bottled water on store shelves and the third largest bottled water company in the world.
But a new study has once again cast doubt on the image of fresh, natural springs promoted by the bottled water industry and brands like Evian.
Sherri Mason, a chemist and researcher at the State Univeristy of New York at Fredonia, tested 259 brands of bottled water for plastic particles. She and a team of researchers found “widespread contamination,” according to a report published by the school's environmental sciences program.
“Of the 259 total bottles analyzed, 93% showed signs of microplastics,” the report says. Contaminated bottles included leading, well-known brands such as Evian, Aquafina, Dasani, Nestle Pure Life, and San Pellegrino, the report says.
Plastic particles in bottled water
The research was commissioned by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization that has launched several investigations into the impact of plastic particles on consumer health and the eco-system. The researchers and Orb Media both say that the health effects of ingesting microscopic pieces of plastic are unknown.
To conduct the study, researchers spent three months filling the water bottles with a dye that makes plastic fluorescent when irradiated with blue light. They say their findings suggest that the plastic is coming from the actual bottling process.
“I think that most of the plastic that we are seeing is coming from the bottle itself, it is coming from the cap, it is coming from the industrial process of bottling the water,” Mason told the AFP.
Bottled water “probably” no better than tap water
Environmental advocacy groups have for years been trying to convince consumers to ditch bottled water altogether, citing the harmful effect that plastic waste has on the oceans, the potential human rights abuses in towns where water is sourced, and research showing that some bottled water may essentially be the same as filtered tap water.
Bottled water is a $100 billion industry, outpacing any other sector of the beverage industry. An investigation last year by Bloomberg News found that Nestle had made its bottled water operations so profitable by sourcing from “economically depressed” areas for next to nothing -- or in the case of one town in Michigan, just $200.
The bottled water industry has responded to such criticisms with campaigns to reshape their public image. Nestle, Coca-Cola and Veoli have partnered with the World Bank in an attempt to “transform the water sector,” as they put it, and Evian recently announced that its bottles will be produced from 100 percent recycled plastic by 2025.
Small fragments of plastic have also been found in everything from seafood to regular old tap water, and totally avoiding the ingestion of plastic is likely an impossible task for most modern consumers. But Mason said that the concentration of plastic particles in bottled water was higher than even plastics detected in tap water.
According to a previous report by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Barbara Ingham, bottled water is “probably” not any better than most tap water, “and tap water is certainly less expensive.”
Bottled water industry refutes findings
The World Health Organization confirmed to the BBC that it is launching its own investigation into bottled water in response to the study.
Nestle has not yet returned requests for comment from ConsumerAffairs.
Evian, in a statement, says that microplastic is an emerging issue that they are following closely. "In general, there is still limited data on the topic and conclusions differ dramatically from one study to another," an Evian spokesman tells ConsumerAffairs.
The International Bottled Water Association, the trade group that represents the bottled water industry, disputed the study's findings and pointed out it that it was not published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
“Microplastic particles are found everywhere – soil, air, and water. And, as the report states, currently there is no evidence that microplastics can cause harm to consumers,” the association wrote in a press release, adding that Orb Media is “not an objective news outlet.”