Environmental engineer says hype turns tap water into bottled water

Thursday, September 20, 2007 | 6:58 p.m. CDT; updated 11:32 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — John O’Connor finds bottled water silly. And on Oct. 3, at the Missouri Water and Wastewater Conference in Columbia, he’ll present the slides and research he thinks proves it. His presentation, “The Story of Bottled Water,” will follow his son’s “History of Wastewater Treatment.”

John O’Connor and his son Tom O’Connor are both environmental engineers at H2O’C, an engineering firm in Columbia that specializes in municipal and wastewater treatment.


The Missouri Water and Wastewater Conference will be held Oct. 2-4 at the Columbia Holiday Inn, 7900 Washington Blvd. Tom O’Connor will present 1 p.m. on Oct. 3, followed by John O’Connor at 2 p.m.

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John O’Connor’s presentation will depict bottled water as an industry fueled by marketing. He thinks that bottled water is something that consumers could just get by turning on a faucet.

There are more than 400 types of bottled water sold by Coca-Cola alone, and what you purchase is often from the same source as your tap water, O’Connor said. In early August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Aquafina water sold in Missouri is from the Missouri River. This doesn’t surprise O’Connor. He estimates that half of all water consumed in Missouri comes from that river.

“A lot of the water that is sold as bottled water is actually municipal water that they basically repackaged,” said O’Connor.

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Ellis Smith September 23, 2007 | 8:26 a.m.

Years ago an article appeared in "Chemical Engineering" magazine about an engineer who was on the road quite a bit and amused himself by assembling a "kit" (in a carrying case) with samples of water in glass viles. Some of the samples were from domestic or foreign (e.g., French) bottled water, while others were taken straight from the tap in various American cities.

The engineer had volunteers "blind" taste the samples and vote on which was the best. The sample which "won" most often was a sample of water taken from the tap in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!

Having at one time lived and worked in western Pennsylvania (including Pittsburgh) I do not find this surprising: The water there has an interesting mix of minerals that makes it taste better than most of the bottled stuff. (It may not be particularly good for you, but it tastes good!)

[Note: This would have been before it became fashionable to add flavorings to bottled water.]

Then there's brewing beer. For decades Coors advertised that their beer is brewed with Rocky Mountain spring water. Visit Golden, Colorado and you will see a VERY attractive stream called Clear Creek, the supposed source of their water. It doesn't take someone with a PhD in chemical engineering to look at the VOLUME of water flowing in Clear Creek and deduce that it's not sufficient for brewing all that beer: Much of the water used must come from the Denver municipal water supply. But there's no doubt that SOME water in the beer is from Clear Creek, so their claim isn't false.

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