The recent lawsuit against Nestle Waters of North America alleges their bottled Poland Spring water is not spring water at all, but sourced from ordinary groundwater, much like the same stuff that comes directly out of your tap at home.1 The lengths to which Nestle has gone to protect their bottled water brand speaks to the love affair that Americans have developed for bottled water.
Water sold in a bottle may be labeled distilled, spring, mineral, artesian or sparkling to name a few. More than 17 million barrels of oil are used in the manufacture of bottled water and 50 billion water bottles are used and discarded every year.2 The cost of bottled water may be as much as 2,000 times more than tap water;3 8 glasses of water each day from your tap costs approximately 49 cents per year while the same amount in bottled water costs $1,400.4
Bottled water now holds the second largest share of the beverage market, well ahead of milk and beer.5 If you are looking for the most expensive bottled water, look for Acqua di Cristallo, which sells for nearly $50,0006 a bottle, sourced from France and stored in a 24-karat gold bottle with a sprinkling of gold dust for good measure.
Many buy and drink bottled water as they believe the quality of the water is better, cleaner and potentially better tasting. Bottled water companies count on this belief to drive sales. However, Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani account for 24 percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S. and both are bottled, purified municipal water.7 In fact, a report by Beverage Marketing Association states that nearly half of all bottled water is sourced from tap water.8
Nestle Under Fire for Poland Spring Water Source
According to a current class-action lawsuit, Poland Spring bottled water is a “colossal fraud.” The suit alleges Nestle has been selling billions of gallons of regular groundwater to their customers and not water acquired from a clear, Maine spring.9 In point of fact, the lawsuit goes on to assert the water is not sourced from anything that fits the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) definition of “spring water.”
Both the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are responsible for the safety of drinking water in the U.S.10 The EPA regulates tap water, while the FDA is responsible for the regulation of bottled water. Interestingly, the FDA states that bottled water may not contain other added ingredients except optionally “safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added …“11 According to these regulations the water labeled “spring water” must be from water that:
“ … [F]lows naturally to the surface of the earth may be "spring water." Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. There shall be a natural force causing the water to flow to the surface through a natural orifice. The location of the spring shall be identified.”
The current lawsuit alleges the water sources are not adequately identified and the original Poland Spring dried up 50 years ago. A spokeswoman for Nestle wrote that “Poland Spring is 100 percent spring water.”12 However, following a settlement of another lawsuit alleging false advertisement of the brand, Jane Lazgin, director of corporate communications for Nestle, confirmed that a mere 30 percent of the water came from an area known as Poland Spring as the original spring had since dried up.13
Lazgin went on to say the remaining 70 percent came from other springs in the immediate area. However, contrary to Lazgin’s statement, Nestle has a long-term contract14 with the town of Fryeburg, Maine, to draw up to 603,000 gallons of groundwater per day at the same rate as the citizens of the town.15 This water is the same water Fryeburg residents are drinking directly from their tap. This lawsuit is only the latest in a string of legal actions against the bottled water company. In 2002, the class-action suit filed alleging false advertising was settled out of court when Nestle agreed to pay $10 million in donations to charities and discounts to consumers.16
Environmental Working Group Scores Bottled Water Brands
In 2011, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a bottled water scorecard,17 looking at bottled water companies’ overall transparency and disclosure. The report asked three basic questions:
What is the source of the water?
Is it purified and, if so, how?
Have tests found any contamination?
Unfortunately, among the 10 bestselling brands of bottled water in the U.S., including six Nestle brands, nine didn’t have published answers to at least one of those questions. This survey evaluated 173 unique bottled water products and found the results had not improved since their last published report.
Of those bottles evaluated, 18 percent failed to list a location for the source of the water, 32 percent said nothing about the purification process used on the water and overall, half of the bottled water flunked the transparency test.18 According to the EWG:19
“Companies willing to ignore state law to keep information from their customers may have something to hide. Perhaps bottled water companies are banking on the state Attorney General's office turning a blind eye, focusing its limited resources on other issues. In the meantime, bottled water drinkers are left in the dark.”