Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

The Minneapolis Foundation generously supports MinnPost's Community Sketchbook coverage. Learn why.

Why do poor kids drink more bottled water?

A quarter of the blacks and Hispanics surveyed serve their children bottled water -- contrasting to 8 percent of white parents.
REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
A quarter of the blacks and Hispanics surveyed serve their children bottled water — contrasting to 8 percent of white parents.

At least one question needs asking regarding that bottled water and poor minority kids story out of Milwaukee, and Jose Gonzalez asks it: How are their pipes?

By that he means the home water pipes that transport what we assume starts out as clean, safe, state-approved drinking water to the kitchen faucet. Think of it this way: poor kids mean poor parents mean poor housing, which could mean rusty or otherwise bad pipes.

Gonzalez, director of the office of minority and multicultural health with the Minnesota Department of Health, was responding recently to my inquiry on his reaction to that study on thirst-quenching habits.

Let me recap. A poll published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine last week reported that in one particular survey of almost equal numbers of whites, African American and Latino respondents, minority parents were more likely to give their children mostly bottled water.

A quarter of the blacks and Hispanics surveyed serve their children ONLY the pricier bottled water — contrasting to 8 percent of white parents.

Jose Gonzalez
Jose Gonzalez

The survey of 632 parents visiting an emergency department in Milwaukee was conducted by Dr. Marc Gorelick and colleagues from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Reasons cited for downing the bottled stuff included believing that it’s safer, cleaner, better-tasting as well as more convenient.

Media reports, of which there were quite a number, tended to highlight the seemingly puzzling tendency of minority parents to spend money on bottled water rather than turn on the tap, and as well as possible health risks to kids such as the bottled water often lacking fluoride to keep teeth strong or being associated with greater incidence of diarrhea.

“I would argue that people should save their money and drink tap water,” Gorelick told Reuters Health.

Media summaries tended to gloss over the significant socio-economic differences reflected in the study and other telling details.

That’s the kind of rationale Gonzales was searching for when he asked me, “Do they get rusty water or does it have a bad flavor?”

A notable exception to the quick and once-over-easy coverage was MedPage Today. which spelled out the following crucial information:

“Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics made up the study population in roughly equal proportions.

“More than half of the white parents were college educated, compared with 21% of blacks and 17% of Hispanics.

“Median monthly income was $3,500 for whites, compared with $1,500 for both minority groups.

“A total of 44.8% of parents responded that they gave their children exclusively or mostly bottled water.”

For me, those socioeconomic comparisons stand out like blinking neon signs on a moonless desert night. Whites in the survey are better educated and better off financially, thus likely to live in better neighborhoods and healthier housing.

That brought to mind the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation study released last fall. Called “The unequal distribution of health in the Twin Cities,” [PDF] the analysis revealed close ties between where a person lived and health and life expectancy.

Drinking your water from the bottle or tap is a matter of choice, acknowledges Stew Thornley, a health educator in the drinking water program at the state Department of Health. Still, he wants to assure folks that our Minnesota water is safe for drinking.

“Tap water is very closely monitored and regulated. They can be assured their water is tested more thoroughly and regulated more closely than water from any other source, including bottled water,” Thornley says. Plus, he says, it costs only a few pennies per 1,000 gallons.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/16/2011 - 08:27 am.

    My anecdotal experience?

    People of Hispanic and Asian appearance are the ones always lined up at the filtered water tap in Cub and Rainbow stores.

    Living in Mexico, we bought 5 gallon bottles of water from the vendors who came by early in morning.

    “Agua, el agua, el auuugua”

    And the roof dogs barked..

  2. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 06/16/2011 - 02:10 pm.

    I live in a 90 year old house with mostly original inside plumbing (but copper to street.
    There is occasionally a bit of loose scale with a tan color for a second when a tap is opened, especially if the tap has not been used for a while. This is harmless lime which flushes through in a few seconds. Any old lead solder is quickly encrusted in lime so there is no real danger.

    That said, I was my hands before drawing the morning coffee water from the same tap. This is basically to let the water run a bit before drawing coffee water. I am relatively well educated and did casually research out urban water safety.

    That said, last week I drove up to a neighbors property near Lake Mille Lacs. I brought my own city water rather than drink the well water.

    For a bit of irony last year KSTP-TV carried a story on the businesses in the St. Paul Light Rail corridor. Mayor Coleman was in an immigrant store that had a big sign “Clean filtered water, forty cents per gallon.” There was a real irony in that.

    Two factors at work with the higher minority usage of bottled water. Many minorities come from areas with bad water or have relatives in such areas. Also, the environmental movement has a lot of “career Cassandras” and less educated people are less able to analyse their messages of “doom”. Like the newest lottery game having “more ways to win” (but not necessarily a better payout there are statements like “more chemicals are being discovered in drinking water all the time!” (better detection often to parts per billion or trillion?).

    It’s a failure of social service agencies in not informing lower income people that the “city water” here in extensively tested and extremely safe.

    BTW: If you shop around generic bottled water can cost as little as a penny an ounce or $1.25 per gallon. Minneapolis bills per 100 cubic feet used (700 gallons). The summer rate works out to around three gallons for a penny. Winter usage is used to determine sewer usage but water and sewer combined are still less than penny a gallon combined.

  3. Submitted by John Clawson on 06/16/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    This is hardly one of the great questions of the day, but it IS a good question to do some research on. My anecdsotal experience? I see this all the time at Cub and my totally down-market Roundy’s: people of obvious low income buying bottled water (and not Roundy’s filtered, either, but Dasani). Infirm and diabled people struggling to load cases of bottled water out of carts into cars. When I lived in Southern California, the water spigots in stores were as #1 reported constantly busy with people filling 5 gallon jugs with water FILTERED THROUGH THE STORE/CITY WATER SYSTEM and then lugging it, laboriously home in carts, wagons, baby-strollers, or on their backs sometimes great distances to their homes. For my money, the city water was perfectly fine (never very cold) and was so certified. But was it? Or did my Latino neighbors know something I did not? Or was it just custom from their former homes south of the bortder? Blacks did not customarily buy this water. There were trucks on the street too, as #1 reports, but where did THAT water come from? and why was this not regulated? and why did water buyers trust the truck and not the city? Does not the cost of bottled water impress people without much money to spend? I sometimes one of the corner panhandlers drinking from a Dasani or equivalent water bottle. The same questions could be asked there. Is bottled water a scam/hoax/fraud? or is municipal water something that should be avoided? Hope some private business (googled it and found lots of water companies in the private sector so this appears to be something the private and not the public sector have to do and) will be willing to front the costs of asking/researching these questions and more. I certainly don’t trust Coke (bottler of Dasani) or Roundy or “Glacier Springs” (look at the label and see wher that one comes from). Am certain the can trust Glenwood-Ingelwood or the like more. Good questions. Give it to Channel 4. They’re a private industry and answer therse kinds of good questions!!!

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/16/2011 - 03:43 pm.

    Aside from the health reasons cited in the article for not drinking bottled water (increased risk of diarrhea and reduced fluoride intake), the quality of the “filtered” water at the store is questionable. I found out the hard way that “filtered” water at a grocery store prominently advertised as “chlorine and fluorine free” was most certainly NOT chlorine free and killed some very expensive soft water fish I had just purchased. It was foolish of me to use the supposedly “pure” water without testing, but at the very least, it should have been as claimed–chlorine free. I called the manager at the store, who assured me that it would be fixed I later went back with a handy-dandy chlorine test strip and still found the water to be positive for chlorine, even though the date shown near the system indicated that the filter had been recently changed. This lead me to believe that the water was not treated in a way that removes chlorine, but merely run through an RO system without understanding what it does to the water. Maybe not even filtered at all–the water in the area was VERY soft, so it would be difficult to tell the difference between filtered and unfiltered water with a simple aquarium test kit, except for the chlorine.

    Hrmph. Now that I think about it, I’m still ticked off by that incident. Those poor fish (and I’m out the money). Someone should follow up on that…

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/16/2011 - 03:53 pm.

    I believe low-income people (or anyone who prefers filtered water, if only to keep minerals from clogging their coffee makers) could save a lot of money as well as the hard labor of carrying bottled water home.

    Water filters that attach to a kitchen faucet cost about $20-$30 and remove over 99% of all the stuff people would rather not have in their water. Replacement filters cost $15-$20 and last anywhere from six weeks to two months, depending on how many people are in a family.

  6. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 06/16/2011 - 06:48 pm.

    I have only studied the Minneapolis water supply but the Minneapolis system softens the water very well. This reduces the mineral build up of the water system pipes but overall, the minerals that make water “hard” are beneficial to harmless for human consumption. In Mexico they use lime-stones to grind corn. Thus the Mexicans eat a lot of ground lime. They are known for having good bone density and very good teeth.

    Why anyone would want a drinking water filter with city water is a mystery to me. I have been using a drip filter coffee maker for two years and it still runs well. If it limes up and burns out (fail safe circuitry) they are under $25 new. I haven’t bothered with it but if you want some maintenance use 4 to 1 diluted white vinegar a few times through it once every few months (run the same mix through several times) to delime then a couple of fresh water to rinse. White vinegar cost under a dollar a quart of usually under $2 per gallon at Aldi. A delime procedure on a drip coffeepot might use a dimes worth of white vinegar.

    It’s been three years since I retired but I used to work in government printing. I would proof many documents including the informational material that went out to social service clients. I can’t recall ever
    seeing anything on “city water” or drinking water safety.

    Back in the early 1980’s I lived in the Phillips neighborhood and used to casually observe food stamp buying patterns at the Country Club market which was then there. Like the studies showed food stamp users bought fewer generics and fewer “family size” and non-cut even though Country Club Markets gave a significant discount for these.

    I now shop at Aldi stores that have a lot of Somali customers. They buy huge quantities of bottled water which is totally unnecessary. Minneapolis probably has the best water treatment system in the world.

    BTW: Sorry about your fish. Take Minneapolis tap water and let it sit a few days and the chlorine will dissipate. If really worried boil the water a bit and then use it for the fish after it cools. Some older pets get gun irritation from chlorine.
    Take a clean container, fill it with water and put it in a refrigerator for a day with a cap slightly open so it does not build up pressure. Chlorine is like CO2 carbonation. Without pressure it fizzes just as carbonation does.

    Poor people are Ummmh, poor so it sad to see them squandering their limited resources on totally unnecessary bottled water when are city water is as good or better and under a penny a gallon.

  7. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/17/2011 - 10:32 am.

    I was in St. Paul at the time–they use chloramine (Minneapolis might, as well). Chloramine does not dissipate like chlorine does. It requires either an activated carbon filter or chemical treatment to neutralize. My crude aquarium chlorine test strip couldn’t tell the difference between the two chemicals.

    My point was that because the water was advertised as lacking chlorine, it was either improperly filtered to do so, or the filtering system wasn’t working. The problem with both of these issues is that it makes me question if the “filtered” water at these sources is even safe. A simple activated carbon filter would have removed the chlorine/chloramine. Running water through a system increases the risk of exposing the water to bacteria that can colonize the inside of the system. So, if the filter was improper or improperly maintained, it wouldn’t be that big a leap to suspect other issues with the water. Of course, since they failed to remove the chlorine/chloramine, it might just be the thing that keeps the water relatively safe.

  8. Submitted by Golda Starr on 06/18/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    They shouldn’t drink bottled water!!!!
    They should drink ONLY reverse osmosis or distilled water!!
    Save the bottles.
    NEVER drink tap water. It has fluoride in it.

    I ended up in 3rd stage kidney disease, on the fast track to kidney failure and dialysis because of fluoride! Stopped ALL fluoride and in 4 months, my kidneys functioning improved 90%!!

    Try teaching appropriate dental hygiene habits to reduce cavities. Brush for two minutes at least twice daily and floss. Simple.

    Try teaching about the connection between high fructose corn syrup and cavities. Teach what foods have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

    People want to make their own decisions about what chemicals to take into their bodies. If they have to buy bottled water to avoid toxic chemicals, they’ll do it.

    Government does not have a legitimate right to force people to drink a chemical – supposedly for their own good.

    People with low functioning kidneys obviously should have the right to have drinking water that won’t make their kidneys FAIL.

  9. Submitted by mike halwits on 07/22/2011 - 08:10 am.

    its a best story about children health so thanks for giving us.

  10. Submitted by Monica Sands on 08/10/2011 - 11:12 am.

    Very interesting read. I always drink bottled water just to be on the safe side.

Leave a Reply