Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Better water

Remember the bottled-water-versus-tap-water taste test I wrote about a few weeks ago? Here's a recent note sent to folks in the hospital from our catering department head. The response was very positive:

Dear catering customer .
I am emailing you to inform you that BIDMC catering will be removing bottled water from our menu. Instead, we will default to tap water with ice in pitchers with reusable glasses. We have made this decision for environmental reasons detailed below. However, as a large catering consumer, you will also save money by switching to water pitchers. The transition date is September 14th, 2009. From that date moving forward, if water is ordered, you will receive as stated above. If, for any reason, you feel you need bottled water for your event, please contact me directly.
Thank you,
Gail Spileos

Reasons for “Going Green”
In the past few years we have received many requests to recycle catering bottles, and we hope to have that program in place soon. However, eliminating the bottles is even more environmentally sustainable. Each year, 55,000 bottles, or almost 5% of the 1.2 million bottles cans consumed here at BIDMC, are catering water bottles even though an identical product is available directly from our tap. The decision to phase out these bottles eliminates both unnecessary plastic and the fuel needed to truck water from a bottling plant to a distribution site and then on to BIDMC.

I understand that part of the reason we have been serving bottled water instead of tap has to do with the misperception that our tap water is dirty and unsafe. Because this perception has more to do with the successful marketing campaigns of bottled water companies than reality we would like your help in supporting and promoting this shift to a more environmentally sustainable model. This shift will be successful if we work together to educate our meeting participants.

What folks should know is that tap water is at a minimum as clean and safe as bottled water but often it is cleaner and safer. The MWRA tests our drinking water for 227 contaminants every year and publishes its result on its website. Bottled water companies are held to a lower standard because they don't have to test their water in certified labs. They also don't have to publish the results of any of the tests they do perform. As a result, as an institution that is committed to the public health and safety, we can say unequivocally tap water is certainly no less safe than bottled water and may, in fact, be safer.

There is also a perception that tap water tastes lousy. However, in a recent blind taste test here at BIDMC, 60% of the participants preferred the taste of tap water to that of bottled water and another 15% had no preference. This means we are currently serving water that was only preferred by 25% of the participants. The switch to tap water will mean a shift to the water preferred by the majority of participants.


pesha said...

Kudos. I've spent the past several weeks at the bedside of a relative hospitalized in New York. Incredibly, the sign behind each faucet in the patients' rooms says the water is not potable. In a hospital. She's been in many rooms, on different floors. All signs say the same. I glanced around her room yesterday and noticed at least a dozen bottles of water. She's not being wasteful. Part of her therapy is to hydrate. So her health depends - at least in this hospital - on worsening that of our struggling planet.

Rhea said...

This is exciting news! I have long thought bottled water was a farce. I felt so strongly that I became involved with the Boston-based Corporate Accountability International's Think Outside the Bottle campaign several months ago. As a citizen-activist, I am helping to persuade Gov. Patrick to stop buying bottled water for the state. New York has already done this! Again, congratulations on helping the public see what a joke bottled water really is.

REKording said...

Let's hear it for our civic-minded forebears who sequestered watersheds and built our water works, and for our competent contemporary custodians!

Don't be a sap. Drink from the tap!

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...


Some hosptials in NY (including mine at one point) have been dealing with Legionella in their water supplies, adn that may be why you saw those signs.

Several recent abstracts at the ASRM meetings addressed the potential associations between biphospenol A in bottled water and reproductive outcomes in fertility patients. That. along with recent data showing that plastic bottled waters have estrogenic properties, have convinced me that my lifelong habit of drinking right from the tap has served me in good stead.

pesha said...

Disturbing, Dr P, but thanks for letting me know. This is a long-term antepartum pt at a teaching hospital in NYC where Legionella has been reported and where all water served to her comes in bottles. Let's hope there's no BPA in those bottles.

Unknown said...

Just make sure that it's cold and you have good glasses. Certain types of plastic glasses make water taste bad.

I don't know how hard your water is, but there are places where tap tastes pretty bad or is heavily chlorinated. The chlorine taste goes out if you let the water sit for a bit, and a cheap filter can improve taste a lot.

Kristin Urquiza said...

Paul -

Kudos to you! What a great step for the environment, our pocketbooks and our public water systems. You're right - tap water is much better regulated than bottled water and quality information for tap water is readily available to us, whereas bottled water corporations are not required to disclose this information to the public. The bottled water industry has built a multi-billion dollar U.S. market by casting doubts on public drinking water systems and the agencies like the MWRA that manage these systems. Opting for tap water over bottled water is a great way to stand up for public water systems which have been critical to health and equality in the U.S., and need to be well-maintained here and ensured around the world.

My name is Kristin and I'm the director of the Think Outside the Bottle Campaign, based in Boston, which has been building national support for strong public water systems and asking people and institutions to opt for tap water over bottled water. Recently we've been focusing on building support for Mayors and Governors to cut city and state spending on bottled water. As a result of our efforts this past May, Governor Patterson from the State of New York issued an executive order to phase out state spending on bottled water. We are now focused on making sure Governor Patrick follows suit.

Given your leadership with moving Beth Israel away from bottled water and back to tap water, it would be great to have you take the Think Outside the Bottle Pledge and join thousands of folks across the state that are calling on Governor Patrick to cut state bottled water purchases and stand up for our public water systems, just as Beth Israel as done!

You can take the pledge here and http://bit.ly/17ftXx and sign the letter to Governor Patrick here: http://bit.ly/NdJFJ. For more information, please visit www.ThinkOutsidetheBottle.org.

Again, I'm pleased to hear of your decision (your blog was forwarded to me from one of our members!) and if you have any questions about our campaign don't hesitate to contact me directly. Congrats again!


Kristin Urquiza
Think Outside the Bottle Campaign Director

Corporate Accountability International
10 Milk Street, Suite 610
Boston, MA 02108
617.695.2525 (main)
617.695.2626 (fax)

Unknown said...

This is great news. I would only suggest that BIDMC invest in buying and using covered pitchers (i.e. pitchers that come with removable lids). Uncovered pitchers often run a higher risk of contamination - from contact with dirty hands, with aerosolized infectious droplets from coughs and sneezes, etc. Ideally, lids should only be removed from pitchers when refilling or washing. Although they may seem like simple accessories, lids go a long way in protecting people - especially those of us who work in higher-risk hospital settings - from an array of pestilent microbes.