There was once a time when bottled waters could not be found in stores. Now it is rare to see a grocery story without them crowding the shelves. But are such bottles of water really necessary for the students of EWU? Some of the members of the Eastern faculty would say no.
The EWU campus has two wells and is currently building a third. According to Ron Hess, assistant director of plant operations, the well water is tested every month. On an average month, 10 samples are taken. These test can focus anywhere from lead and copper, to nitrate, Radionuclide Radium 228 and more.
Hess also compared Cheney water to EWU’s well water. Cheney treats its water with chlorine and fluoride. Eastern’s well water, however, is not treated. The water is pumped from a 500 feet deep well into a 1.1 million gallon storage tank which is cleaned and repaired regularly. From there it is distributed throughout campus. Since the university strives to procure clean water, Hess said, “Bottled water, I feel, is a lot worse.”
He is not the only one with that sentiment. Geology professor and Director of the Environmental Science Program John Buchanan stated that he does not like the use of plastic bottled water. “What the biggest issue environmentally for plastic is the energy cost in their manufacturer and the energy cost in the distribution of bottled water.”
A study conducted by Environmental Research Letters estimated that, in 2007, an equivalent of 32 million to 54 million barrels of oil was used to create energy in order to manufacture the amount of bottled water consumed in the U.S. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, around 33 billion liters were sold that same year to the U.S. That does not include the amount of oil it took to ship it.
“You’re paying for convenience,” Buchanan stated. “And you’re ignoring the energy costs and the environmental costs.”
Bio-analytical chemistry professor Jeff Corkill agreed with that statement for the most part, though, since he had lived in Boston, where tap water is undrinkable, Corkill did see the attraction of bottled water. But he believes that Spokane’s water is high quality.
“This whole bottle of water business is really a commercial,” Corkill stated. “The people who do it are not interested in providing decent water.”
He said that a lot of the bottled water companies just use tap water, possibly running it through water filters and putting it in bottles. Corkill said that consumer reports also show that tap water is not often as good as the local water anyhow.
Another concern for plastic bottles (other than the fact that not all of them can be recycled) is a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA), which was found in low levels in some plastic bottles. BPA has recently been linked to heart disease and diabetes. The FDA does not currently see a risk, however, others disagree.
Either way, faculty at Eastern would say that there are better ways to get water. All the sources interviewed recommended glass, because it is more natural and is easier to recycle. If tap water tastes bad, filters are available. Powders such as Crystal Light and Propel are also available. Eastern’s well water was also recommended.