Bottled water back in the news… again. This time in Canada.
A Montreal laboratory is raising worries about bacteria in bottled water, noting they’ve found “revolting” levels that could put certain vulnerable people at risk.
Researchers from C-crest Laboratories in Montreal decided to randomly test bottled water for bacteria after a fellow employee complained of a foul taste from some bottled water and became ill.
They tested a handful of popular brands (which they did not name) and found that more than 70 per cent of the samples contained bacteria at levels that far exceed recommended limits in the U.S.
Some of the bacteria were at levels dozens of times higher than those permitted by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
“There were so many that at first, we couldn’t count. We had to dilute the samples,” Sonish Azam, one of the researchers in the study told CTV News.
The types of bacteria they found were heterotrophic, a category of bacteria that includes those that survive by consuming organic matter.
Regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada have not set limits for the heterotrophic bacteria counts in bottled drinking water.
According to the USP, no more than 500 colony forming units (cfu) per milliliter of bacteria should be present in drinking water. The C-crest team found counts in some of samples at 100 times those levels. In comparison, the average count for different tap water samples was 170 cfu/mL.
The researchers stress that the bacteria they found “most likely” do not cause disease, but Azam says that’s still unclear. She suggests it’s possible that the bacteria they found could be pathogenic and pose a risk for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and immunocompromised patients.
“I cannot rule out that these organisms might be harmful, but I do not know,” Azam said. “But in microbiology there is a rule: guilty until proven innocent.”
Michel Lavelle, of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, calls the study “unnecessarily alarming.” He says commercial bottled water is not meant to be sterile, so the presence of bacteria in itself is not news.
“When you say the word bacteria it sounds like it is dangerous. But you eat bacteria on salad and fruits all day long. And these are the same bacteria found in the water,” he told CTV News.
He notes that the bacteria detected are non-coliform and non-pathogenic and don’t do any harm, which is why regulators haven’t set limits on these bacteria.
Still, Azam’s team concedes that while bottled water is not expected to be free from microorganisms, they were stunned at the high levels of bacteria they found. ( source )
So… Should Canadians rally at the Courthouse and demand that bottled water companies make restitution for distributing bacteria-laden product? Nah. We don’t think so.
We do, however, all agree that an independent group needs to take a closer look at the bottled water industry’s overall bacteria levels and set some guidelines defining acceptable and unacceptable bacteria levels — regardless of whether or not science currently deems a particular type harmless.
Remember: ‘Germs’ and ‘bugs’ that scientists originally thought harmless have killed plenty of people throughout history because we simply didn’t know any better… yet.
Testing for Potentially Harmful Bacteria
The following test kits can help you test well water, tap water, spring water, pool water and even bottled water for potentially harmful strands of bacteria.