01 Nov 2004, 04:01:45 PM

Reporter: Nicolas Boot

"I think people are wrong probably to think that just because it's bottled water it's going to be cleaner and healthier, they really need to know what is in that water."

Almost 500 million litres of bottled water is consumed by Australians each year and its fair to say, its become so popular because we like to think its much better quality than tap water.

Some people use bottled water as their staple drinking source, now I think they need to know which waters they can trust ."

It will probably come as surprise if not a shock to many consumers to know that not everything that's in the bottled water you're drinking, needs to be listed on the label.

John Archer author of 6 books on drinking water and chairman of Water Consumers of Australia is rightly concerned. He has just stumbled across a government report that's found high levels of aluminium in raw water sourced for some of Australia's top-selling bottled waters. Levels that aren't even tolerated in ordinary household tap water.

John Archur says "This water contains 200 times the aluminium level of Sydney tap water and people have the right to know that."

The water comes from bores in Peats Ridge on the New South Wales Central Coast. It is an abundant source for bottling companies including Coca Cola Amatil's popular selling Peats Ridge and Neverfail.

Mr Archur says "The health department did an analysis of 89 bores in the area and of that 89, three quarters were unfit for drinking and the concern is and I share that this water was being sold as bottled water."

Aluminium consumption is also a concern shared by scientists, some studies link it to Alzheimer's disease and other neurotoxin disorders.

The world health organisation sets a standard of no more than point two milligrams of aluminium per litre of water, more so for aesthetic reasons than healthy ones.

For most Australian water utilities the levels are much lower in tap water.

"There's been a growing number of evidence that aluminium has neurotoxic ability affecting the brain and affecting the way we think and it also affects the central nervous system."

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith heads the National Toxic Network, a government lobby group concerned about our exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment from the food we consume to our general lifestyle.

She says if I was aware that there were high levels of aluminium in bottled water I certainly wouldn't make a personal choice to drink that water.

We decided to put John Archer's claims to the test, we selected eighteen of Australia's top selling brands and had them analysed for their aluminium content which isn't listed on their labels those results in a moment.

In the meantime, Dr Ross Vining Senior Analyst with the NSW Health department says while we consume 5-7 mg aluminium a day only 1% is absorbed by the body and that's considered quite safe.

Dr Vining says "We are surrounded by aluminium by and large it does not seem to pose any health risks accept in very unusual circumstances. In high doses? Certainly in dialysis there seems to be a causal link if there is high aluminium in the water it can cause neurotoxicity."

Now to our test results of the 18 samples... 6 contained aluminium levels above world health Organisation guidelines of 0.2 miligrams of aluminium per litre all of them sourced from the same Peats Ridge region the highest readings.

The 1.5 litre bottle of Peats Ridge which contained 1.4 mg/litre and the Woolies/Safeway Homebrand.

The 4 litre and the 600 ml bottle of Peats Ridge and the Neverfail 5 litre bottle had slightly less aluminium. The larger Neverfail container popular in offices was slightly higher than the world health organisation guideline.

John Archur says "Sydney water spent millions taking aluminium out of Sydney's water supply because they believe that it was a health risk they called that prudent avoidance I suggest consumers think about the same thing in regard to this water."

However Dr. Ross Vining says those levels aren't really anything to worry about. "The general consensus is that level is unlikely to cause health problems in normal people scientists who have looked at this around the world."

"May I say that the world health organisation standard is set for aesthetic purposes rather than health purposes." Tony Jentile represents the bottled water industry, he maintains all bottled water meets regulations set by the Food Standards Australia.

He says "We in Australia take different views on things we in Australia and New Zealand for that matter have to rely on what our chief food scientists and our chief medical officers say."

However John Archer and Mariann Lloyd Smith firmly believe we need to be told exactly what's in the water we're drinking.

Mariann Lloyd-Smith says "Yes they should be on our shelves lots of people drink bottled water but I think we need to call on these companies to improve their quality control to do everything they can to reduce the level of aluminium down to levels we've seen elsewhere and at the very least label their products so that people can make an informed choice to avoid consuming more aluminium than they normally do."