Reasons why people drink bottled water

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I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who seem to have an obsession with consuming bottled water, at a cost of at least 1,000 times greater than the same amount municipal tap water costs.

In 2011, 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water were purchased by U.S. consumers. That amounts to 222 bottles per person, four for every man, woman and child each week. The annual increase in sales averages 4.1 percent, twice as fast as the economy itself.

Between 2011 and 2012, sales grew nearly 7 percent, according to The Beverage Marketing Corporation, with consumption reaching 30.8 gallons per person. Peter Gleick, an authority on the subject, states that, “Since I, and some of you, consume almost zero bottled water every year, there are people out there drinking far more than the average.”

An article in Forbes takes issue with some of Gleick’s conclusions about why Americans buy so much bottled water. His reasons are: consumers are bombarded with advertisements claiming that bottled water is safer than tap water, more hip and healthier; that public drinking fountains are hard to find; that treatment of municipal water fails to remove some potentially harmful chemicals; and that some people don’t like the taste of tap water.

The Forbes article states, “… the most shocking reality about Gleick’s commentary is that he ignores the blindingly obvious reason why bottled water has become a boondoggle: Americans are thirstier than they used to be.” Continuing, “So many have a subjective feeling of having a dry mouth, resulting from a dysfunction of the salivary glands.” Dry mouth is a condition known as xerostomia, a side effect of over 1,800 forms of medications, the Forbes article contends. Antidepressants, notably Prozac, are believed to be important contributors to drug-induced xerostomia. Prozac was approved for use in 1987 and by 1988, nearly 2.5 million prescriptions for the drug were dispensed.

In 2002 more than 33 million people were using Prozac, and by 2008, antidepressants were the third-most-common drugs taken by Americans. The concensus of the Internet sites I visited dealing with xerostomia was that the more pills you take, the greater is the likelihood you will have the disorder.

I take only a few pills, none of which is an antidepressant. I have on a few occasions consumed bottled water and used it to brush my teeth. Each time I did was when vacationing at an exotic place where the tap water was unsafe to drink.

Had bottled water been available in Auburn a few decades ago when water from the taps tasted and smelled like muddy swamp water for an extended period, I would have bought and drunk it. A scientific investigation revealed the cause of the problem. Cow manure was entering Chewacla Creek, which empties into Lake Ogletree, which at the time was the city’s only source of its drinking water. The manure in the lake resulted in a high concentration of actinomycetes, bacteria that live in the soil and overly fertile bodies of water. The bacteria produce the chemical geosmin, which is not removed by traditional water treatments, and the presence of geosmin in the municipal water caused the objectionable taste and smell.

The owner of the cattle was ordered to prevent manure from entering Chewacla Creek, and not long afterward, water from the taps in Auburn could be drunk without holding one’s nose.

If I lived in or visited the Louisiana parishes of St. Bernard or DeSoto, I believe I would buy bottled water for drinking. The brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, has been found in some of these parishes’ water pipes.

A four-year-old boy recently died from an infection by the amoeba, believed to have been contracted while visiting St. Bernard Parish. A 51-year-old woman in DeSoto Parish died from an infection by the amoeba in 2011, and a 20-year-old man from near New Orleans died in the same year after being infected by the amoeba. Both were using neti pots to clean their sinuses.

The mode of entry by the amoeba into the human body is through the nostrils. Authorities contend that drinking water containing the amoeba is safe as is bathing if no water enters the nostrils. But I suspect that most residents of St. Bernard and DeSoto parishes are drinking bottled water.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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