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BBC reports damaging environmental impact of Nestlé's bottled water business

22 July 2005

(You can listen on-line and find a transcript at Find Nestlé's response and some photos at

BBC Face the Facts (22 July 2005) investigated the damaging impact of Nestle's bottled water business in Brazil and the United States. In Sao Lourenco in Brazil, Nestle's pumping in an historic mineral water park is blamed for ruining the healing springs on which tourism in the small town is based. Contrary to federal law, Nestle demineralised the water to manufacture its Pure Life brand. While Nestle claims there has been no negative impact, tests commissioned by the BBC and official government test results found the opposite.

Nestlé built its Pure Life factory and surrounding wall in the area of high risk to the aquifer, contrary to Federal Law (DNPM 231/98) - see map below. Trees close to Nestlé's borehole (from which it was pumping over half a million litres per day) are dying.

The Public Prosecutor in the town, Pedro Paulo Aina, brought a legal action for compensation after campaigners gathered 3,000 petition signatures, prompting an investigation. He told the programme:

"We began an inquiry to find the facts and after about seven months of investigation we came to the conclusion that there were two principle and fundamental problems. The illegal nature of the exploitation of the Primavera Spring and the over-exploitation of the mineral water aquifer. The excessive exploitation is dangerous not only for tourism, and the whole city lives on tourism, but also in the sense that it puts at risk a gift of nature that is not just Sao Lourenco's but of all humanity."

The legal action stopped exploitation only briefly as Nestle won an appeal to continue working while the case was heard. Four years later, the case is still tied up in the courts.

A similar story was found at Sanctuary Springs in Michigan in the US. Campaigners there won a legal battle to stop over-exploitation after they found changes to water levels, most dramatically where a stream had been reduced to a trickle in an area of ecologically significant marshland. Lawyer, Jim Olson, told the programme: "The judge ultimately in the case shut down the well and concluded that there was no property right or legal right or water right for a company to extract water in a fashion that would diminish the flow or reduce the level of any lake, stream or wetland." Yet again, Nestle appealed to continue operating while the case is heard and, again, the case is tied up in the courts.

Baby Milk Action's Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Mike Brady, recently visited São Lourenço with Franklin Fredrick, a member of Brazil's National Health Council Working Group on Mineral Water, also interviewed by the BBC, and has prepared an in-depth article examining Nestlé's illegal activities, the protracted legal battle to stop them and the impact on the town.

(Right: Franklin shows some of the damage caused to one of the historic spring chapels by subsidence linked by a hydrologist interviewed by the BBC to the over-exploitation of the aquifer).


Those familiar with the baby milk campaign will not be surprised to learn that Nestlé is involved in changing the way the bottled water industry is regulated in Brazil which potentially could see Pure Life production resuming in the future.

Nestle acquired the water park in the historic spa town of São Lourenço in 1992 when it took over Perrier. In 1996, without authorisation, it sank 158 metre deep wells into the aquifer and later began producing its Pure Life brand of processed water. Pure Life production was stopped in October 2004 as demineralizing the precious waters from the park is against Federal Law. However, the campaign continues as Nestlé is still pumping water so it can extract the gas to carbonate other brands. For a past Baby Milk Action article on this case see

Federal Deputy, Dr. Rosinha (right) organised a public hearing into Nestlé's Pure Life operation before the Consumer Defence Committee in the House of Congress on 1 July 2004 after Nestlé challenged an order paralizing water extraction in court. The head of the regulatory authority, DNPM, spoke at the hearing.
The Congress journal reports: "According to DNPM, the contract for Nestle to exploit mineral waters in the Park of Sao Lourenco does not permit the expansion of wells, which requires new environmental impact studies, that had not been done. The director of DNPM also said that the demineralisation of water is against the fundamental principles of the Mineral Water Code, that requires the integral protection of mineral salts."
Dr. Rosinha organised a hearing into Nestle

If you are interested in publishing Mike Brady's in-depth article and pictures from the São Lourenço case contact This is backed by legal and other documents, such as the Aquifer Vulnerability Map from Nestlé's own Environmental Impact Assessment shown below (produced when it attempted to obtain retrospective permission for its actitivies).

Nestlé's factory was extended to produce Pure Life and a wall built around it without the permission required under Federal Law in the area of highest risk to the aquifer (annotations by Baby Milk Action). The wall is 4 metres high and extends 7 metres into the ground and forms part of Nestlé's system for exploiting the aquifer.

For a wealth of information in Portuguese see the website

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