IBWA: ‘Undue alarm’

Dear Editor:
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) takes issue with a number of comments in WC&P’s “On Tap” column on Campylobacter and drinking water (Kelly A. Reynolds, “Campylo-bacter: Concerns with Drinking Water Sources,” December 2003).

IBWA is well aware of methods and reporting of studies and laboratory surveillance such as the University of Wales, College of Medicine, that’s at the root of this coverage. This study and the subsequent WC&P article may cause undue alarm about the safety of bottled water. WC&P readers should understand the study showed only a remote statistical association, not a causal link, due to the fact that the organism was neither tested for nor found in bottled water. Consider that the study also showed a statistical association between Campylobacter infection and walking for more than 15 minutes, but no one is suggesting that walking causes food poisoning.

Bottled water that complies with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state regulations and standards has been shown not to harbor harmful bacteria. Groundwater-sourced bottled waters are routinely monitored, sampled and analyzed, regardless of the amount of processing, to help ensure they’re free from pathogenic microorganisms.

Regardless of whether the bottled water product is from a groundwater source or public water source, utilization of a multi-barrier approach has demonstrated to be extremely successful in helping to ensure product safety and protect public health. Dr. Reynolds’ unspecified statement about “bacterial re-growth” in bottled water is ambiguous, and she’s likely addressing heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria. In April 2002, an expert group of the World Health Organization (WHO) gathered to consider the health implications of HPC in drinking water, including bottled water, and concluded that HPC itself does not present a risk to human health.

Also of note, statements made in the “PipeLines” column of this same WC&P edition contend that a “reeling” bottled water industry, through IBWA, was spurred, as a result of the University of Wales Campylobacter study to release the IBWA Bottled Water Path-to-Market Flash Presentation, which is an interactive demonstration of bottled water regulations, standards and Good Manufacturing Practices. The bottled water industry, because of confidence in our standards and processes that would make Campylobacter contamination improbable in bottled water, was far from “reeling.”

In fact, as stressed above, IBWA strongly affirms that bottled water sourced and packaged in compliance with FDA standards would not harbor Campylobacter or other harmful bacteria. Secondly, the IBWA “flash” presentation was not released in response to the University of Wales study. This flash project is part of IBWA’s overall strategic initiative to educate important audiences about bottled water regulations, standards and safety and had been initiated independently a year before we became aware of the study.

Stephen R. Kay
Vice President, Communications
International Bottled Water Association
Alexandria, VA

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