EWG's Response to Glacier's Letter
Dec. 12, 2002
Brian McInerney, President and CEO
Glacier Water Services, Inc.
2651 La Mirada Drive, Suite 100
Vista, CA 92083
Dear Mr. McInerney,
On Dec. 10 the Environmental Working Group and the Environmental Law Foundation released the results of tests on water purchased from 274 Glacier vending machines in California. Analysis of the samples found that water from more than a third of the machines failed California standards for trihalomethanes (THMs) in vended water. More than two-thirds failed to meet your company’s claim that your filter system typically removes 97 percent of all contaminants . . . from the source water.
In response, you issued a statement saying we are either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead the public. But the evidence shows that it is Glacier who is misleading the public- and your customers who are misinformed, by your company.
On your website, www.glacierwater.com, you go beyond claiming to meet state standards or reducing chemicals by 97 percent, calling Glacier "the source for safe, chemical-free drinking water." (Emphasis added.) But one-sixth of Glacier machines we sampled sold water with at least twice the level of THMs allowed by state law, and some had six times the state standard. Isn't marketing Glacier water as "chemical-free" when you know it's not a case of deliberately trying to mislead the public?
On the basis of these false claims, you entice consumers to pay 25 cents or more for a gallon of Glacier Water, as opposed to less than half a cent for a gallon of tap water. Your customers are promised one thing but sold another. In your statement, you avoid this fact by never addressing the honesty of your claim, but repeatedly insisting that Glacier Water is safe. We never said otherwise. As a spokeswoman for the state health department said, it's a truth-in-advertising issue, and Glacier's not telling the truth.
You further claim "these so-called state standards" are irrelevant to consumer health and safety and that federal THM standards for tap water are all people should be concerned about. So-called? The California Health and Safety Code states: "[B]ottled and vended water shall not exceed 10 parts per billion of total trihalomethanes." (Div. 104, Part 5, Ch. 5, Art. 12, Sec. 111080.) These are not "so-called" standards but the law, and Glacier is obliged to obey this law as surely as any other. As for the 40,000 tests a year you cite, your website acknowledges that no tests are performed for THMs, so you don't even know which of your machines meet state standards and which do not.
Furthermore, your assertion conveniently ignores the dozens of independent studies (cited in our report) that show an association between low birth weight of babies and mothers who drank water with as little as 10 ppb of THMs, and an association between multiple types of cancer and people who drank water with THM levels well below the federal standard of 80 ppb. (The federal standard was recently lowered from 100 ppb in response to scientific evidence, raising the distinct possibility that the "safe" level will be further lowered in the future as new science emerges.) There are very real health risks associated with THMs, and a pregnant woman who chooses to avoid those risks by drinking vended water advertised as "chemical-free" should get what she pays for.
Your statement makes ominous reference to previous efforts "to scare consumers about Glacier Water." I assume you mean the 1998 tests by Los Angeles County health officials, which returned results similar to ours. The response of your predecessor at Glacier to those tests was to call publicly for an industry-financed program of mandatory, unannounced state inspections of water vending machines: "Only this way can consumers be confident they have nothing to worry about."
We couldn't agree more, and we are urging the state to take you up on your company's offer. In the meantime, you owe it to your customers in California and 36 other states to have an independent laboratory test your machines for THMs and other contaminants and make the results public. Any machines that do not comply with California or other states' laws should be taken out of service. And if you find that you can't live up to your marketing claims, you should stop making them.
Ken Cook, President