A new study on the chemical risks of bottled water by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist group with a long history of grabbing media attention with badly-done studies, has come under fire from one of the world’s leading experts on water safety.
Dr. Stephen Edberg, professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Internal Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, developed the most commonly used test to ascertain drinking water safety. He criticized the EWG for making scientific claims based on evidence that bodies such as the World Health Organization have rejected. In particular, he criticized the EWG’s allegation that bottled water was more likely to promote breast cancer cell proliferation.
“The study’s ‘breast cancer’ allegation is an egregious example of specious science. The test uses cells in the test tube, indicating that breast cancer cells grew less in tap than bottled water. The reason is obvious, tap water contains chlorine, which inhibits cell growth. No valid research would use tap water to examine cells in culture.”
A quick, but non-exhaustive, survey of media coverage of the EWG study (New York Times, AP, Bloomberg WebMD etc) found that reporters didn’t examine the scientific validity of the group’s findings or question the methodology of the study by seeking comment from independent scientific experts. Most of the articles repeat the EWG findings with the only added comment from bottled water industry representatives.
While we don’t approve of this kind of enhanced press release journalism – call us overly cautious, but we think it’s wrong to scare the public without checking out whether the scare is true – we cite Dr Edberg’s comments despite the fact that they are in a press release put out by Burston Marsteller and because he is a real scientist with track record of expertise in the subject. And it’s somewhat useful to have that kind of input into an issue like this, dontcha think?