Book Review by: Stacy Olson
Book by: Elizabeth Royte
Bloomsbury, U.S., 2008
Before I read Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, I was a tap water drinker but not exclusively. After this enlightening read, I can now say that I am a fully converted tap water drinker with a “Bottled Water Free Zone” sticker on my refrigerator. This book is a serious habit-changer.
Elizabeth Royte is well-known for her previous books Garbage Land and The Tapir’s Morning Bath: Solving the Mysteries of the Tropical Rain Forest (both New York Times Notable Books), and her articles have appeared in The New Yorker, National Geographic and other prestigious magazines. In Bottlemania, Royte dives into the complex world of commercialization of one of the most basic human needs: drinking water. Her journalistic adventure starts in Maine, where water trucks drive 24/7, pumping and transporting water from aquifers around the state. These aquifers have the potential to deliver clean spring water to the citizens of Maine for many thousands of years; however, the 700 million gallons a year that Nestlé pumps from Maine is creating an uncertain future for the state.
The author paints a lucid and compelling picture of Fryeburg, Maine, the town that is trying to stop Poland Spring (a division of Nestlé) from “stealing” their water. Nestlé buys the water at the same price as any resident of Fryeburg; they then bottle and sell it back to consumers at rates approximately 4,000 to 6,000 percent higher. When the author arrives on the scene, the town is in an all-out water war. Neighbours are mad at neighbours. Gossip of secret meetings creates an on-edge atmosphere for the town of 3,000. The ecology of their lakes is changing; fishing and swimming are no longer possible because of ever-polluted waterways. In this divide, the author stands clear: Fryeburg water should not be for sale.
The author further explores the issues of marketing, the environment, economics and health surrounding water in a captivating manner. Bottlemania is a well-balanced page-turner that leaves the readers to make up their own mind about the water debate; and there certainly is a debate raging. By mid-read I was leaning towards my trusty glass of tap water for the ethical and economical reasons alone. There were a few more questions I needed answered before making my final decision on the liquid, however: Is bottled water cleaner? And is tap water safe?
The answers to these questions were fully developed by the author and left me satisfied. The issue of the environment and the safety of bottled water cannot be explored without mentioning the bottles themselves. Approximately 40 billion bottled water containers are thrown into landfills or recycled every year in the U.S. alone. Do the chemicals from bottled water leach into drinking water as it is transported to store shelves? Absolutely, according to Royte. The longer bottled water sits in plastic before you consume it, the more BPA and other hazardous chemicals move from the plastic and into your water.
Rotye does not hide the fact that she is a tap water drinker and even comically filled up her Nalgene in front of Poland Spring higher-ups. It is no wonder that she included an eye-opening safety comparison in this concise read. Tap water in New York City has 2.8 parts per million of nitrate, while Perrier carries about 18 parts per million (much higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 10 ppm). What about bacteria? My tap water, for example, is processed four kilometres from my home, then runs through the tap and into my thirsty mouth. Is there time for bacteria to multiple and wreak havoc on my body? Nope. Now Evian, for example, is bottled about 8,000 kilometres from my house and sat on a store shelf for an unknown amount of time in a toasty room temperature environment in which bacteria love to multiple. I’ll choose the faucet on this one.
Water is an essential human need that we are not thinking enough about. Bottlemania is an eye-opening book that will compel you to stand on one side of the water war or the other. As for me? I haven’t touched a plastic water bottle since finishing the book.
Stacey Olson is a teacher in and around the Grande Prairie area. She continues to spread the word about fluoride in her community and hopes to have it removed from the water by the end of 2012.
On the heels of a decision by the City of Calgary to remove fluoride from its water, and nearby Fort St. John in the same process, the fluoride debate is growing again in Grande Prairie Water Aware
Stacey Olson wanted to find more out about the tap water she ingests eight to 10 times a day. One simple phone call and she was touring her local water treatment plant. To her surprise, cleaning water to make it potable is a relatively, well, clean process.
One issue she was keenly aware of on the tour, however, was fluoride. While three chemicals are used to treat water, fluoride is added to treat people. The fluoride debate has raged for years in Canada. Last spring, Calgary city councillors voted to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water, and last November, a bid to do the same in Fort St. John was defeated in an election referendum. Stacey Olson wants the issue on the public agenda in Grande Prairie.
“I decided that if I was going to drink tap water, I wanted it to be as clean as possible,” says Olson. “The choice of which medications enter my body is mine alone.” She has started a petition entitled Stop Fluoridation in Grande Prairie’s Water and will be presenting it to city council in early 2012.
She is inviting people to sign the petition online at www.fluoridefreegp.tk or at any health food store around Grande Prairie. The Rabbit Hole in Grande Prairie has the book Bottlemania: How Water Went On Sale and Why We Bought It in stores now and also has copies of the petition available to sign.