Nestle is in hot water for allegedly using a false advertisement on its bottled Poland Spring brand water, which plaintiffs claim is not sourced from a spring.
The suit, filed by 11 plaintiffs from eight states in a Connecticut court on Aug. 15, seeks at least $5 million in damages for false advertising, breach of contract, deceptive labeling and consumer-law violations, Courthouse News reports. The plaintiffs claim Nestle falsely advertises that Poland Springs water comes from eight natural springs in Maine.
"The products all contain ordinary groundwater that [Nestle] collects from wells it drilled in saturated plains or valleys where the water table is within a few feet of the earth’s surface," lead plaintiff Mark J. Patane said in the 325-page complaint.
The FDA requires bottled spring water to be collected at the source of a naturally occurring spring or from a well that draws from one.
A spokeswoman for Nestle Water North America denounced the class action claim as "an obvious attempt to manipulate the legal system for personal gain." She said Poland Springs water meets all USDA standards before adding that she felt "highly confident" in the legality of the company's position.
The plaintiffs allege that Nestle created artificial springs "by causing well water to flow artificially through pipes or plastic tubes into wetlands that contain no genuine springs." According to the suit, the real spring in Poland Springs, Maine, ran dry nearly 50 years ago.
Patane uses physics to argue against the existence of natural springs; according to him, each of the eight springs would have to flow at an average rate of 245 gallons per minute to keep up with the billion gallons of water the company bottles per year.
"Such a spring would be plainly visible -- more like a geyser than a spring -- and undoubtedly well known," said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Craig Raabe. "Yet there is no photographic proof that even one such spring -- much less eight -- exists on or near defendant’s sites in Maine."
The plaintiffs also claim the environment of Poland Spring's collection sites "are near a present or former human waste dump, refuse pit, landfill, ash pile, salt mound, farm where pesticides were previously used, fish hatchery or toxic petroleum dump site" -- a stark difference from the "pristine" pictures that appear on the bottle's label.
The lawsuit comes at a time when Nestle is seeking to expand in Maine. It is awaiting state approval to draw water from a public well in the city of Lincoln, The Associated Press reports.
Nestle settled another lawsuit regarding the advertisement of Poland Springs water in 2003 because it was not sourced deep within the woods of Maine.
Nestle Waters North America is facing a separate lawsuit in Michigan, where it is appealing the local planning commission's decision to deny the company from pumping more water in Evart, Michigan, for its Ice Mountain brand.
Nestle's Ice Mountain request has drawn opposition from the public and local Native American tribes, MLive reports. A new judge was assigned the case on Aug. 17 after four other judges recused themselves over their past ties to Nestle.
Nestle Waters North America is also involved in another lawsuit in California, where a group of environmentalists have sued the USDA for records on Nestle’s permit to pump from Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Nestle is said to pay just $524 per year for the permit to pump millions of gallons of water, according to Courthouse News. The water is sold under Nestle's Arrowhead and Pure Life brands.