Journalist Royte (Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, 2005, etc.) traces bottled-water production and the origins of other sources of potable water.
The author begins in Fryeburg, Maine, where citizens are engaged in a battle with Poland Spring over the company’s water-bottling practices. Such battles are being fought across the country, many against Nestlé (which also owns Deer Park, Ice Mountain and others), Coca-Cola (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina). The demand is increasing rapidly, argue the corporations, and they have a point: In the period between 1997 and 2006, sales jumped from $4 billion to $10.8 billion. But don’t make that argument to Howard Dearborn, an 81-year-old resident of Fryeburg who insists that Poland Spring’s drilling is ruining his lake by its continuous pumping from the underground spring that feeds it. Not to mention the environmental detriment of producing and shipping all that water: In fact, the author notes, “on average, only 60 to 70 percent of the water used by bottling plants ends up on supermarket shelves: the rest is waste.” The saga in Maine provides the central narrative and theme—the question of whether water should be a commodity to be bought and sold—but Royte also examines the journey of tap water, revealing the contents and relative quality of various municipal supplies across the country, including New York City and Kansas City, “where the public utility sucks from the Missouri River something that resembles chocolate Yoo-Hoo and turns it into water so good that national magazines shower it with awards and even the locals buy it in bottles.” Those readers with weak stomachs may cringe at the author’s descriptions of some of the water-filtration processes—and the many chemicals, bacteria and other nasties the process supposedly filters out—but Royte deserves credit for her tenacity and well-balanced approach. Though she personally chooses not to support the bottled-water industry, she shines just as bright a light on the problems with tap-water production. She even gives voice to “bottled-water expert” Michael Mascha, who enjoys, among others, “Bling—which comes in a corked bottle decorated with Swarovski crystals.” A helpful appendix follows the text.
Lively investigative journalism.