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Why Buy What You Own?

National activist questions the logic, and health risks, of purchasing bottled water


‘We believe that water is a basic human right,” said Ruth Caplan, campaign coordinator with Alliance for Democracy. She is spearheading the group’s efforts to change the way you think about bottled water. Commodifying water, putting it into a bottle and selling at the market price is, according to the AFD, a very big first step toward getting people to think about water as just another product on supermarket shelves.

“The way the advertising is being done by Pepsi, Coke and Nestle, the ‘big three,’ they insinuate that tap water is not safe and the water in their bottles is safer,” said Caplan, a Washington, D.C.-based author who will be in Albany today (Thursday) to speak on this issue. “There is a not-very-subtle message that municipal water is not safe to drink. And if you want to be healthy, drink bottled water. They don’t say that overtly, but implicitly, that is the message.”

In response to a manipulated demand, these corporations have created massive alternative water distribution systems. Look no farther than Latham: Pepsi is the largest user of Latham’s municipal water. In 2004, it pulled 115.5 million gallons of the total 4 billion gallons that pump out every year from the Latham supply, to be bottled and sold as Aquafina. They take the water from the municipal supply, truck it to their bottling facilities, truck it to the store for the end user—who then drives to the store to purchase it at inflated costs.

Contrast that, she said, with tap water. “There is very little energy used to ship tap water from the source—the Catskills—to its destination, a home.” Tap water flows, for the most part, she said, under the pull of gravity. “If you are concerned at all with global warming, then this should be a major concern.”

She also points out concern about the whole toxic life cycle of the plastic. “From the production of the plastic—Cancer Alley [the Louisiana region where much of the country’s plastic packaging is manufactured, and also where, it is alleged, there is a higher incidence of some cancers] and all the troubles there—then there is the problem of the disposal of the bottles themselves,” she said. “Billions and billions of bottles. What do you do with these bottles? Most of them are thrown away. These are made for one usage and then to be thrown away.”

Those billions and billions of disposable bottles of water consumed yearly not only create untold costs to the environment but also possible costs to public health. Water in bottles is considered a food, she said, therefore not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration and the FDA is not set up to test water sources.

“There are no FDA regulations for arsenic in water, for example,” she said. Further, she pointed to concern with what happens to the water when it is in the plastic bottles during shipping. “They have found bacteria in the bottled water. There is also concern about leeching of toxic chemicals into the water. You don’t know if the water has sat in a hot truck somewhere, where it has been stored.” The National Resource Defense Council tested more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water and found contamination in excess of allowable limits in at least one sample from about one-third of the brands. These contaminates included synthetic organics, bacteria and arsenic, Caplan said.

“Aquafina meets all the FDA standards for purified water,” said a Pepsi representative. Pepsi runs the water through a filtering system called HydRo-7 Purification. It is a seven-step process that filters the water, which includes reverse osmosis to purify the water. It basically removes everything from the water. “Cosumers appreciate this convienent, high-quality water for their on-the-go lifestyles.” The representative said that Aquafina is compliant with all government regulations.

But, for the most part, Caplan said, the testing of the water in the bottles is done by the industry itself. “And if people believe that the big corporation that is selling them water and testing the water is more reliable than an independent federal agency, I think that’s too bad.”

There are concerns, too, about the plastics used in the bottles. “With the large five-gallon polycarbonate bottles, there is a real concern that they leech bisphenol A, which is a hormone disrupter. It can increase prostate tumor proliferation, change brain chemistry and impact behavior, like hyperactivity.” And although there is little information on the negative impacts of the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles (the smaller, single-serving sizes), it could just be that the research hasn’t been done yet, she said. “And consumers have been completely convinced that these bottles are safe.”

What does Caplan suggest if you want ultra-filtered water? Get yourself a glass, or lined-aluminum, bottle and a filter system for your tap and enjoy.

Ruth Caplan will speak at Albany Public Library today (Thursday, June 8) at noon and again at 7 PM. The public forums will be hosted by the Alliance for Democracy.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

In and Out

William Weld, the multimillionaire former Massachusetts governor, dropped out of the running to become governor of New York state because he felt it would be “too expensive and divisive to wage a summer-long battle.” Entering the run for governor last fall, Weld was supported by many well-known politicians, including Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. This support enabled Weld to get on the primary ballot even though he lost to Assemblyman John Faso at the GOP convention. But now his supporters have changed their minds. Politicians who once backed Weld have now decided to change their support and focus on Faso in the name of “party unity” and in hopes of beating front runner Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Free Ride

Reuters reported Monday that “Congressmen and their aides took free trips worth over $50 million paid for by corporations, trade associations, and other private groups between January 2000 and June 2005.” Companies such as Microsoft and Walt Disney Co. have sponsored these so-called “business trips” to “spots such as Paris, Hawaii, and Colorado ski-resorts,” wrote Thomas Ferraro for Reuters. Apparently, these spots are the only places where the politicians feel that they can concentrate and do business. Ferraro also said that an associate spokesman, Thomas White, was quoted as saying: “Such getaways provide an opportunity for us to discuss our issues with members in an atmosphere where you are not time constrained. If you try to talk to a member for any great length of time . . . in Washington, they are simply too busy.”

Broken Marriage Amendment

The Senate Wednesday rejected President Bush’s latest attempt to push through a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In what many see as election-year pandering, Bush began to stump for the legislation in May. Supporters of the amendment came 11 votes short of the needed votes on Senate floor. Republicans in the House, however, have vowed to take up the amendment later in the year, saying that 45 states have passed similar legislation. “The voice of the people has been heard loud and clear,” Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on the floor, “I think, sadly, most people realize there’s political motivation here.”

photo: Kathryn Lurie

Closing the Book

A few years ago, when Lark Street’s Bryn Mawr Book Shop closed its doors, some neighborhood friends decided that they didn’t want to lose the presence of a Lark Street bookstore. Mark Brogna, Bill Pettit and John McLennan came together in December 2002 to buy the store’s inventory and to lease the space as the Lark Street Bookshop.

Over the course of the three-and-a-half years of the Lark Street Bookshop’s existence, it has been a steadfast source of support for the Albany arts scene, hosting a monthly singer-songwriter series, poetry readings, knitting groups and neighborhood get-togethers, often providing home-baked goods and fair-trade coffee.

According to Pettit, the book shop received a letter in the mail from a lawyer a couple of months ago stating that their lease was canceled effective June 30. When they contacted the lawyer, he referred the owners to a real-estate agent who quoted them “an outrageous” purchase price, one that the shop simply could not afford, especially when they considered the condo fees and taxes that applied to the property. After exploring all their options, the owners decided that they had no option but to close their doors. In the meantime, everything in the store is on sale.

Metroland was told that plans are in the works for a big musical send-off bash on or around the closing date (June 30); watch the calendar listings for further information.

—Kathryn Lurie

Dishonorable Mention

Environmental group’s “Dirty Dozen” names the usual suspects and the government agencies tasked to police them

One year, it was an egg carton con taining a dozen misshapen eggs. Another, it was a toxic golf ball perched on a tee oozing with the winner’s name. This year, it was a pair of shoes, mounted to a plaque, of specific children who were affected by toxic waste. Last Thursday in Albany, members of the Citizen’s Environmental Coalition (CEC) revealed the third annual Dirty Dozen Awards in the hope of exposing companies who pose environmental threats. A committee of environmental professionals, public-health experts, and worker, health and safety activists from all over New York state selected the 12 awardees.

This year’s awards focused specifically on the children of the neighborhoods in which these industrial companies and landfills reside. “The awards this year focus on how the environmental problems we’re highlighting are affecting our children and our future,” said Laura McCarthy, program associate with the CEC. “I’d like the winners this year to ‘walk a mile in these shoes’—the shoes of the children affected by groundwater contamination, the waste site with no warning signs, or the air pollution in their schools and homes.”

Some of the kids in possible jeopardy, the CEC said, attend the two schools located directly across the street from Lafarge Building Materials in Ravena. The French-owned company made the Dirty Dozen list (for the second year in a row) by pushing ahead with its plan to burn 4.8 million tires in cement kilns. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation made the Dirty Dozen list, too, for approving the tire-burning plan.

Critics claim emissions from tire burning, which include heavy metals and chlorine, could increase the risk of brain damage in children. “Many of the pollutants related to tire-burning are recognized as carcinogens and both reproductive and developmental toxins,” said environmental group Friends of Hudson. “Research has shown that children, pregnant women, immunosuppressed individuals and those with specific genetic susceptibility are uniquely vulnerable to the damage and disease caused by many of the emissions which may result from burning tires.”

But burning tires actually will benefit the environment, Lafarge spokesman David Vahue said. Not only will it reduce the company’s dependency on coal, it will help curb the overabundant supply of waste tires. There are nearly 19 million tires thrown away yearly in New York state alone, he said. “If you set all of the tires side by side they would stretch from Ravena to San Fransisco.” At an annual savings of $1 million (waste tires are a lot cheaper than coal), Lafarge is happy to take the tires off the state’s hands. And the DEC defends its choice to allow Lafarge to burn tires, stating that the company has met all the regulatory standards.

Plan on fishing this summer? Might want to reconsider your trip to Nassau Lake. Elevated levels of PCBs were found in the flesh of the lake’s fish due to the dumping of 46,000 tons of liquid toxic waste in the Dewey Loeffel Landfill in Nassau, the CEC said. The wastes were transferred from companies such as GE to the landfill. Oils, paints and toxic chemicals, such as Benzene, have leached into the ground, contaminating not only Nassau Lake and its fish but also the wells of the nearby inhabitants of Nassau.

According to the CEC, “In 1992, it was discovered that groundwater contamination was effecting area wells, and while filters were installed to alleviate this danger . . . the DEC is holding off on the construction of the Leachate Collection Treatment United . . . which would lessen the danger to nearby homeowner wells.”

In October 2002, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer requested a pollutant study in and around the lake. “The Dewey landfill has essentially turned Nassau Lake into a garbage dump,” Schumer said. “As a result, people can’t swim, fish or drink the water there. I think the community deserves an explanation.” The CEC is hoping the awarded Dirty Dozen plaque will help GE and the DEC change their dirty ways and clean up their acts, saving not only the fish but securing a healthy future for neighboring children.

In response to appearing twice in this year’s Dirty Dozen list, the DEC issued a statement ensuring their constant actions to “protect New York state’s precious natural resources and environment.”

“The goal of this award is to get the bad actors to take steps in the right direction. We hope this event will encourage them to do so,” said McCarthy. Other winners include Hopewell Precision Inc., IBM, the Environmental Protection Agency for the Peter Cooper Superfund site, West Valley Demonstration Project, Keyspan’s Northport and Port Jefferson Power Plants, Indian Point Power Plant, New York Organic Fertilizer Co. and Willet Dairy.

—Jamie-Lee Greene

photoAlicia Solsman

Party Hopeful

At the Desmond Hotel in Colonie on Saturday, Eliot Spitzer spoke at the Working Families Party’s state convention. The party, which informally endorsed Spitzer in January 2005, officially endorsed the popular Democrat in the gubernatorial race, saying that he represented their views on economic and social issues. They also gave endorsements to Sen. Hillary Clinton in her reelection bid and Andrew Cuomo in his run for attorney general.

The WFP hopes that Spitzer will bring voters to their line on election day. Alex Navarro, communications director for the party, said, “In 2004, the WFP’s only statewide candidate, Sen. Charles Schumer, received 168,000 votes on the WFP line.” Out of the statewide candidates for this year’s election, he said the WFP’s goal for Spitzer is around 200,000 votes.

The WFP has more than 33,000 members and addresses issues such as health care, jobs and education for the poor, working and middle classes.

—Leah Rizzo



“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends

--no loose ends this week

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