Do you know where your bottled water comes from? The owners of a Chicago plumbing supply store say they thought they did.
Since 2008, they had five-gallon bottles of Ice Mountain spring water delivered to their Chicago Faucet Shoppe offices. The attraction sprang from marketing that exclaimed, “Imagine having fresh, great-tasting spring water right in your home or office any time you want it!”
But the plumbing shop owners say they learned in July those bottles contain filtered municipal tap water.
The water’s source wasn’t disclosed in advertising, they allege in a consumer lawsuit that has landed Nestlé Waters North America — the USA’s top bottled water supplier and a subsidiary of Switzerland-based nutrition and health giant Nestlé — in legal hot water.
“Nestlé Waters’ failure to disclose this critical fact caused consumers to purchase five-gallon jugs that they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased … and caused consumers to pay more” than the pennies per gallon that tap water costs, alleged a Chicago Faucet consumer complaint filed Oct. 10 in Illinois federal court.
The case echoes allegations in a previous case against Nestlé Waters, which sells Ice Mountain and other popular U.S. bottled water brands, including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka, Calistoga, Zephyrhills and Nestlé Pure Life.
“When I grew up, nobody was drinking bottled water. Now, an increasing number of people do,” said Peter Gleick, a water and climate analyst and author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water.
Increasing popularity has also come with concern, criticism and legal battles. The Illinois case is the latest in a series of lawsuits and reports in the last decade that have focused on the sources, labeling, health safety, cost, government regulation and environmental issues surrounding major companies in the $11 billion-a-year U.S. bottled-water market.
Like some past bottled-water cases, the Illinois lawsuit alleges that Nestlé Waters violated a state consumer fraud statute. However, bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which enforces standards for water types, quality and labeling.
“We do feel very strongly that we’ll be cleared through the legal process,” said Nestlé Waters spokeswoman Jane Lazgin.
Chicago Faucet officials declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit, which is in an early legal stage. Their attorneys did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
Nestlé Waters in recent years has disclosed the source of its water on labels of several sizes of its water brands, as well as in marketing material. For instance, the sources listed on the company website for Ice Mountain water include springs in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine and Tennessee, plus well or municipal suppliers.
However, the Faucet Shoppe lawsuit charges that Nestlé omitted such disclosures on five-gallon bottles delivered to businesses and homes. Believing her company had been buying spring water, a Chicago Faucet Shoppe officer called Nestlé Waters in July to order deliveries at home, as well.
“After speaking to several Nestlé Waters’ employees, this officer was informed for the first time that the Ice Mountain five-gallon bottles do not contain 100% natural spring water but instead contain resold municipal tap water,” the legal complaint charged.
However, Lazgin said the caps on Ice Mountain’s five-gallon bottles are labeled to show they contain water from the Woodridge, Ill., municipal system that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis process. That disclosure complies with federal requirements, she said.
Nestlé Waters has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, in part by arguing that FDA regulations for bottled water supersede state consumer laws. Chicago Faucet Shoppe, meanwhile, has sought class-action status for the case because countless consumers could have been affected.