- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

Democratic lawmakers yesterday set in motion an investigation into the effect bottled-water manufacturers have on the environment and consumer health.

“In the past decade, sales of bottled water have reportedly tripled, but no one is examining the environmental ramifications of Americans shifting their consumption from the traditional tap to the plastic bottle,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, who was joined by Rep. Hilda L. Solis, California Democrat, in initiating the investigation.

Sales of bottled water have skyrocketed over the past 10 years. John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest in Westchester, N.Y., said sales in supermarkets shot up between 20 and 30 percent since 2003. The largest bottled-water corporations in the U.S. are Pepsico Inc., which makes Aquafina, and Coca-Cola Co., which makes Dasani.

However, Mr. Sicher noted sales are declining as new energy drinks and enhanced vitamin waters are becoming popular with consumers. Sales of bottled water will rise 6.3 percent in the U.S. this year, according to Euromonitor International Ltd., a market-research firm in London.

The inquiry into the bottled-water industry will be conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. The lawmakers’ environmental concern centers on the overflow of municipal landfills across the country.

According to the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group in San Francisco, this year Americans will throw 30 million water bottles into landfills everyday, while only 13 percent of the water bottles consumed will get reused or recycled.

A spokesman for Mr. Wynn said when landfills reach capacity, new ones must be dug, meaning new cost to city governments and likely protests from communities who don’t want to live near waste sites.

In addition, the lawmakers say that unlike tap water, bottled water uses up oil and other fossil fuels to be produced and shipped. The Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., calculates that the process of making the plastic bottles uses approximately 17 million barrels of oil per year.

The American Beverage Association, the lead lobbying organization for beverage products, issued a statement late yesterday deflecting the lawmakers’ concern over environmental issues and their members’ products.

“We have a strong record of reducing the environmental impact of our operations and products — from making packages lighter to reducing our waste and energy use,” said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association.

Mr. Wynn and Ms. Solis also raised questions about the purity of bottled water and whether bottled-water suppliers provide the details of the water source on their labels.

“Many consumers think that when they buy bottled water, they are consuming water from a pristine natural source that is purer than tap water,” Mr. Wynn said. “However, some companies simply bottle and sell tap water,” he said, referring to Aquafina.

Pepsico did not respond to a request for comment.

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