Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingWater is essential for life. It is also pretty good for business. Last year, Americans spent more than seven billion dollars on bottled water. Some people try to save money by re-using those bottles. But is that safe?
Whether you are working out in the gym, having a game of squash, or playing tennis in the park, the one thing we all need is to drink enough water.
Robert Gee: "It allows for more maximum performance."
Ryan Damon: "When I don't drink water I feel I get tired a lot quicker."
Lindy Kwock: "It's one of the most important things.”
It certainly is important. But these days more and more people are re-using their water bottles over and over again.
Ryan "I do use plastic bottles that I sometimes refill."
So the question is, do the health risks of re-using water bottles outweigh the health benefits of drinking the water? We decided to put it to the test. We went through our own newsroom to find bottles that people were re-using.
We also bought a fresh bottle for comparison. Then we took them to Anresco Labs in San Francisco. Microbiologist Laila Lam ran the tests. The results were not pretty.
Laila Lam, Anresco Microbiologist: "It's pretty gross, it's pretty gross."
The control bottle, fresh out of the machine had no bacteria. The bottle from my desk had a bacteria count of 360,000. My producer’s bottle was 470,000. The three-month old bottle, 530,000.
Laila Lam: "I wouldn't feed it to my baby."
State law requires bottled water to have a plate count of no more than 500 parts per milliliter. Our bottles all had counts closer to half a million. So does that mean they pose a health risk? No, according to laila.
Laila Lam: "You are not going to die from drinking water with a lot of organisms."
Laila says these are just every day kinds of bacteria, the kind you would find all around you. Some may come from your own back-splash.
Laila Lam: "It could just be people drinking some water and a little bit of it goes back into the bottle, from what's in your mouth."
In fact, you are probably exposed to more bacteria eating lunch.
Laila Lam: "Salads can have very high numbers of organisms that you ingest on a regular basis."
We tested one bottle for coliforms -- those are more serious disease-causing organisms. None were found.
So if it's not dangerous, does that mean it's ok to re-use water bottles?
Laila Lam: "I'm a microbiologist, I don't do that… ha ha ha."
Even if you don't mind the yuck factor of having lots of bacteria in the water you drink, the bottles themselves were designed for one use only. Some studies show that re-using them over and over again, or washing them in-between uses may help break down some of the plastic, potentially causing chemicals to leach into the water.
So if you want to save money or reduce damage to the environment, use a water bottle specially designed to be re-used over and over again. They're made of harder plastic so you can wash them. And that will keep your bottle and the water your drink out of it clean and safe.