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Water World: The Perils of Perrier?

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I drink so much bottled water every day that I just had to know – Who was the genuis who thought to bottle water from some outback creek and sell it at a huge market up to dumb city folk like me? And exactly how do those bubbles get in Perrier anyway, or any other carbonated mineral water. And more, what the hell is “mineral water” anyway. What exactly is in this mineral water, apart from the obvious?

The fact is, if one drinks as much bottled water as I do, and we’re talking upwards of six huge bottles a day (if I have my way, Evian, if it’s a bad day at the local market, Poland Spring or Dasani), I really ought to know who the hell came up with the idea of bottling a natural resource and turning a profit. I mean, it’s really pure genius. I can just see some guy or gal in the middle of nowhere sitting by the edge of a local spring or mountain stream and thinking, “Shit, I’ll just put this in a bottle with a pretty picture of trees on the front and sell it as ‘Mountain Water’or some such, and dumb urbanites will buy it.”

But was it that simple? I didn’t know, and so I set to find out.

In 1798, the term “soda water” was first used. Bathing in natural springs was considered a healthy thing to do and a fun pastime. Scientists belived that the naturally occuring bubbles in the springs, caused by Carbon Dioxide, were the source behind the medicinal and curative qualities of the water. Before this though, drinking water with lemon juice and honey (which is amazingly good hot if you have a cold, flu, or sorethroat) became increasingly popular. It was a company in Paris that patented the elixir: Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris. The lemon, honey, and water juice was sold all over Paris and soon became popular worldwide. I’m quite sure, though, that somewhere back in the middle ages, someone had put this very same combination together – they just hadn’t thought to handletter flyers and brand it. Fools.

By 1767, an Englishman by the name of Joseph Priestly found a way to put the bubbles in water and keep them there. He was the first to make carbonated water that was drinkable and like that one would find in nature. Meanwhile, other chemists fiddled around with various minerals and whatnot, including sulfuric acid and chalk and made “mineral water.”

In 1810, the first U.S. patent was issued for the “means of mass manufacture of imitation mineral waters” to Simons and Rundell of Charleston, South Carolina. (source: inventors.about.com)

People everywhere could now supplement their healthful mineral water dips with healthful mineral water sips, and by 1810, carbonated mineral waters were all the rage. Before too long, others manufacturers were aboard and were fiddling with other additives, such as Birch extract as well as various herbs that they touted as beneficial to one’s general health and sense of well-being. The public sucked it up. One could have birch, sasparilla, dandelion, ginger, you name it, added to this fizzy water – and so far, these were all herbs that had been proven to be beneficial in some way; some, old folk remedies passed down through generations, others developed by local pharmacists and doctors. Perhaps most medicinal of all, and still used to this day is Ginger Ale, friend of aching bellies the world over. This true and popular remedy must be credited to the Irish, who, it is believed, created the sparkling ginger drink in 1851.

Soon after the advent and rage of flavoring water with natural additives, the water market took a turn, and began to veer away from what seemed to be the original intent – which was to make a healthful drink. Soon, the concept of “soft drinks” was born and by 1861, the term “pop” was pretty widely used. Soft drink additives became less healthful and more synthetic. Fruit extracts were popular additives, but with those extracts came sugar – some natural, and eventually, leaned to the more synthetic. And the king of all colas, Coca Cola – trumped all others with it’s extra zest of cocaine, for those who needed a wee “pick me up” in the afternoon.

One day in 1885 in the town of Waco, Texas, a guy by the name of Charles Alderton, who worked as a local pharmacist, invented Dr. Pepper, a drink he mixed himself at the pharmacy soda fountain and that locals referred to as a “Waco.” According to inventors.com, Alderton named the drink after a friend of his, a certain Dr. Charles Pepper. By 1891, Alderton was running the Dr. Pepper Company, and by 1904, Dr. Pepper made it’s real debut when it was served at the the World’s Fair in St. Louis to over 20 million people, and soon after that, the period was dropped after Dr. and the first name dropped and it bears the title it holds to this day, “Dr Pepper,” no punctuation. To this day, Dr. Pepper is the oldest soft drink syrup in the U.S.

A simple question about mineral water lead me quickly and stealthily to the history of sodapop and cola, and while I’m interested to know that Dr. Pepper used to be called a “Waco,” it’s time to return to the original topic of mineral and sparkling waters.

So – who do we thank the most for our bottled water, if we are to thank anyone? Well, we could thank that nameless person back in the seventeenth century who decided to bottle spring water and who set out to market what was, for many years a free commodity? Isn’t selling bottled water from a spring a bit like selling the air from a particular part of the alps or somewhere else where ethe air is purer? It seems almost wrong to charge people for something that they need in order to live. Granted, it doesn’t have to be bottled, but charging for water seems off somehow, but then, they charge for oil, gas, and etc etc.

According to one good source, the true granddaddy of bottled water is a certain John Mathews, an Englishman who emigrated to America in 1832, and who knew how to make carbonated water that kept the same fizz it had in a natural spring of sparkling water. Mathews spent many years serving his home-made brew to the people of New York, and supplying stores that had soda fountains with his extra-fizzy water. Mathews would later be credited to what would become a huge boom in the soft drink industry, according to sodafountain.com.

Evian, according to their site, trace the origin of their water source to 16,000 BC when the aquafier and glacial sands are formed in the French Alps. The water originating there eventually winds up in those pleasing pink and blue bottles, or, my favorite, the “Evian Nomad” with the groovy handle.

Perrier, according to their site, dates as far back as the Roman times when it was popular (though not known by this name, I’m sure). Perrier didn’t become known until about 1793 and originates in Vergeze. The Perrier we know today, we only know and can drink because Napoleon III gave the proclamation that it was a-okay to develop the source, and Voila!, green bottles of the Vergeze Fizz are suddenly chic. By 1903, under the management of Dr. Perrier and Sir St-John Harmsworth, Perrier’s famous green bottle became popular throughout Europe and was the first bottled mineral water available in the U.S.(source: www.nestle-watersna.com). For the record, Perrier is now owned by Nestle, a little-advertised fact, as it doesn’t really go with the high-end image so prized by Perrier and those who drink it.

So after all this, what I set to find out was who thought of this and when… How did this bottle from, let’s say Evian at Vergeze, become an item that I could buy today. It seems there were were various individuals scattered throughout the world who all had the same idea during a few hundred year span, when mineral waters really gained more popularlity. That mineral water is naturally filtered through glacial paths and silt and rock is supposedly (if we are to buy into the marketing) naturally better for you because it picks up more minerals as it makes its journey and undergoes a more natural filtration process may or may not be true. I don’t know. It certainly sounds healthier than mass-filtered urban drinking water which is often purified with bleach from the Clorox company, especially during times of natural crisis and disaster, when small amounts of bleach in the water, according to Clorox, have saved thousands of lives as they killed copious amounts of disease carrying germs. But is bottled water really any better for you?

As the National Resources Defense Council put it, “Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years, largely as a result of a public perception of purity driven by advertisements and packaging labels featuring pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs.” We imagine ourselves filling up on healthful minerals, our cheeks pink and glowing, our flawless pseudo-Swiss skin all alabaster and white, our teeth shining like freshwater pearls. It all sounds very promising and attractive and teutonic and sort of junior year abroad somehow, but I have to say, I think it’s all shit.

But the sad truth, and this again from the NRDC, “Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA’s rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water (see chart below). For example, bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria. Similarly, there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. This leaves open the possibility that some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS.”

So bear that in mind as you swizzle the stick in your Perrier, squeeze the lime wedge and take a long hearty sip. If you wanted to be closer to nature and drink something purer, well you have succeeded. Thing is, I imagine most of us didn’t quite know that we were drinking an entire colony of parasites who used to live on the glacier until they moved into their swank, new mineral bottle home. Maybe it’s best to stick with Dr. Pepper.

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti

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About Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Do you think that the result of Evian spelled backwards is merely a coincidence?

  • http://halfbakered.blogspot.com mike hollihan

    I drink Ozarka bottled water; non-mineral and non-carbonated. It’s a natural spring water from Texas that tastes great with a very slight sweet finish. Really great when kept just above freezing!
    http://www.bottledwaterweb.com/bott/bt_220oznats.html

  • srp

    Good catch about Evian backwards. Funny. I usually find things like that; I think drinking the stuff everyday completely blinded me to what is patently obvious… thanks for pointing that out.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great research and presentation, thanks! Looks like the answer is tap water filtered through Pur or whatever – that’s what we do because it’s much cheaper – glad to know that’s the healthiest also.

    I have a cousin who has been a bottled water exec his whole adult life (quoted in this article) – cool guy.

  • wguru

    As for the safeness of drinking chloronated municipal water, I’m confident that city’s in general are penny pinching as they nearly always do and fortunately for us are not keeping the amount of chlorine per the FDA’s guidelines, ie; the more chlorine that kills bad things also creates even worse things, eg; medium to highly chlorinated water contains I forget their names (maybe ‘DPB’s, etc.), but basically their cancer and toxic substances that result from chloronating water (even though there are chlorine resistant protozoan parasites such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum), most City’s from what I read, generally don’t test for them and/or the cancer and toxic substances, except in their reservours and then only periodically. City’s rely on us as guinea pigs that tip off the CDC with hospital reports of the most serious incidents and for those of us not more sensitive to these things, form what i read, little to no research and testing has been or is planned). Again, as for that type of water treatment and how many city’s treat our water in the other recommended ways, some of those being more costly and yet safer (chloramines, chlorine dioxide, ozone, and ultraviolet radiation) but even though in 1974, the EPA began setting guidleines and suppsedly they monitor municipal and commercial water, we all know how well our government agencies actually do what they’re supposed to, ie; little to no authority, unable to monitor and audit even themselves, let alone others. So drink what you will or what you have to, but I’d recommed purifying even bottled water (which at least reduces the particulates and many carcinogens that escape detection and removal).