The new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, has already started hacking away at what Republicans believe is their political mandate – reduce out-of-control government spending. First on Boehner’s chopping block are Congressional office budgets, including travel, postage, staff salaries and bottled water.
Officially, bottled water falls under the “other office expenses” category, but in the first quarter of 2010 the House spent almost $190,000 on bottled water. That’s more than $63,000 per month. The House also spent more than $600,000 on food during the same quarter.
Members of Congress and their staff, however, aren’t the only ones who prefer bottled water to the stuff that flows out of the tap. Annually, Americans consume 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water, and 53 billion gallons annually are consumed worldwide. The cost of all that bottled water? About $61 billion, and 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic bottles.
If you’re a farmer or rancher, there’s plenty of irony in this little tidbit about Congress’ consumption of bottled water. Watch any Congressional hearing on C-SPAN and you’re likely to see a distinguished Congressman asking tough questions with a bottle of water sitting on the desk next to him. Now assume that same Congressman is gathering evidence about our nation’s food supply, say, the dangers of hormones or antibiotics in meat.
Despite all the negative publicity about meat and milk that contain hormones and/or antibiotics, bottled water may be more dangerous.
For argument’s sake, we’ll examine hormones in meat. Scientists tell us that the difference between the hormone levels in a steak from a steer treated with hormones and one raised without artificial hormones is one-half of a nanogram. That’s one-half of one-billionth of a gram. In other words, the difference is one blade of grass in a football field. For comparison, the amount of estrogen in a birth control pill is about 34,000 nanograms. You would have to consume nearly 5 million pounds of beef to equal the amount of hormones in a year’s supply of birth control pills.
As for bottled water, 22 percent of bottled water brands contain chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. If that statistic is surprising, it shouldn’t be. That’s because, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40 percent of all bottled water comes from a city water system. NRDC also says that 60 to 70 percent of all bottled water sold in the U.S. is exempt from the FDA’s bottled water standards because the federal standards do not apply to water bottled and sold within the same state.
Indeed, regulations covering tap water are stricter than those on bottled water. That’s because, in true government fashion, tap water is regulated by a different government agency than bottled water. That’s right, tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, while bottled water falls under the Food and Drug Administration. (You can’t make this stuff up!)
According to the NRDC, city tap water can have no confirmed E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. Bottled water, however, falling under FDA guidelines, has no restriction regarding contamination of any type of coliform bacteria.
City tap water, from surface water, must be filtered and disinfected, EPA says. But the FDA has no filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water. Tap water must also meet standards for certain toxic cancer-causing chemicals, such as phthalate (a chemical that can leach from plastic, including plastic bottles), but the bottled water industry persuaded the FDA to exempt bottled water from the regulations regarding those chemicals.
Despite the data that suggests bottled water may be no less risky than tap water – in fact, the NRDC said, “we conclude that there is no assurance that bottled water is any safer than tap water” – Americans continue to pay $4 to $5 per gallon for bottled water. That’s 10,000 times the cost of tap water!
Speaker Boehner’s proposal to cut five percent of the congressional budget will save about $35 million, or 0.001 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual U.S. budget. Peanuts to be sure. But, bottled water may not be one of the items cut.
Bradford Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan organization focused on improving the efficiency of Congress told CNN this week that a reduction in Capitol Hill’s supply of bottled water might draw stiff opposition. Apparently the tap water in Washington, D.C. has lower approval ratings than Congress.
“I would not begrudge them (Congressional staffers) bottled water,” Fitch said. “I wouldn’t drink D.C. tap water. That is not a luxury. That is almost a necessity at times.”