Bottled water use is very extensive in the United States. More than half of all Americans drink bottled water and sales exceed $4 billion a year. The growth of the bottled water industry is due to the perception that bottled water is safer or of higher quality than water available through your tap. It should not be assumed that purchased water in a bottle is any better regulated, safer or of higher quality than water that is provided by your community system or water that is treated at the home. In a four year study of 103 brands of bottled water conducted by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) released in 1999, it was found that nearly one quarter (22%) of the brands tested had at least one contaminant that exceeded state or bottled water industry standards and 25% - 40% of all bottled water is derived from municipal/community sources (tap water). Over 1,000 bottled water samples were taken for this study and some of the samples found Bacteria, Synthetic and Volatile Organic Chemicals (such as industrial solvents, chemicals from plastics or Trihalomethanes) and Inorganic compounds (such as Arsenic).
The regulation of bottled water quality is controlled by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA standards only apply to bottled waters sold across interstate borders. 60%-70% of all bottled waters are sold within the same state as where they are bottled and are exempt from FDA standards. These bottled waters fall under state regulations which may differ significantly from FDA or EPA drinking water standards or there may be no state standards at all. "Carbonated", "Soda", "Seltzer", "Sparkling" and "Tonic" waters are also exempt from FDA regulations and many states have minimal standards for these type of bottled waters.
Bottled water is expensive and has a large environmental impact. The average person uses two gallons of drinking water a day for consumption and cooking. A family of four would use approximately 2900 gallons of water per year. At $0.50 to $1.00 per gallon that is a cost of $1,450 to $2,900 per year! If you had to pay this amount of money for water, you may not use bottled water for cooking purposes and may use your contaminated tap water for cooking instead. If you are using tap water for cooking that has contaminants such as lead and disinfection by-products, these substances can end up in your food and be ingested. It is just as important to cook with high quality water as it is to drink it.
Bottled water has to be filled into containers and transported. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and resulting pollution to manufacture plastic containers, fill those containers and transport water to and from distribution centers and the store. It is ironic to buy bottled water to obtain healthy water quality when the act of doing so contributes to the degradation of our drinking water resources. The chemical production for water containers and the pollution as a result of manufacture and transport is a contributor to our air and water quality problems. Sometimes bottled water travels great distances as consumers are lead to believe waters from foreign countries hold benefits not found from local water sources. A small amount of the water containers may be recycled, but most end up in landfills or are incinerated. Also, don't forget the plastic chemical taste in your water from those pliable plastic one gallon jugs. Depending on the composition of the water container, chemicals may be leaching from the container into your water.
If you are bottling your own water in jugs at a local water supply, you may be putting yourself at risk. Storage of water requires specific guidelines to prevent bacteria growth during storage. Containers should be sterilized prior to filling and contamination is easy during the filling process. Direct light has an impact on the stored water as well as the room temperature.
Bottled Water Basics
Whether it travels through a pipe to your home or comes packaged in a bottle, safe drinking water is essential to good health. All our drinking water comes from similar sources, either from sources we can see, such as rivers and lakes, or from sources we can’t see, such as underground aquifers.
In the same way that tap water’s taste and quality may vary from place to place, so too does bottled water’s taste and quality vary among and even within brands. The taste and quality of both bottled water and tap water depend on the source and quality of the water, including its natural mineral content and how, or if, the water is treated.
Drinking water (both bottled and tap) can reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk. For example, minerals such as magnesium and calcium give water a distinctive flavor, and are essential to the body. At high levels, however, these and other contaminants, such as pesticides or microbes from human wastes, can cause adverse effects or illness.
To make sure that all water is safe to drink, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set drinking water standards. EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water suppliers; FDA sets standards for bottled water based on EPA standards. Bottled water and tap water are both safe to drink if they meet these standards, although people with severely weakened immune systems or other specific health conditions may wish to further treat their water at home or purchase high quality bottled water.
FDA regulates bottled water as a packaged food under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and has established standards of identity and quality for bottled water. FDA has also established good manufacturing practice requirements for processing and bottling drinking water.
EPA encourages all Americans to learn more about the quality of their drinking water, both tap water and bottled water, before deciding whether to drink tap water, bottled water, or both. If your water comes from a public water system, the best way to learn more about tap water is to read your water supplier’s annual water quality report. If your water comes from a household well, EPA recommends testing the water regularly for bacteria, nitrates, and other contaminants. The best way to learn more about bottled water is to read its label, or contact the producer directly.
Know What You’re Buying
To learn about the quality of bottled water, begin by reading the label. In addition to the volume of water, any pertinent nutritional claims, and any contact information for the bottler, the label may include the type of bottled water, its source, and the way in which it is treated. For more specific information, you may need to contact the bottler directly.
Bottlers use standard identifiers, prescribed by FDA regulations, to describe their water, but the meanings may be different than you expect. These terms refer to both the geological sources of the water and the treatment methods applied to the water. The terms don’t necessarily describe the geographic location of the source or determine its quality.
For instance, “spring water” can be collected at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source. Other terms used on the label about the source, such as “glacier water” or “mountain water,” are not regulated standards of identity and may not indicate that the water is necessarily from a pristine area. Likewise, the term, “purified,” refers to processes that remove chemicals and pathogens. “Purified water” is not necessarily free of microbes – though it may be. Bottlers must list on the label the type of bottled water (such as spring water, mineral water, or drinking water). If the water comes from a public water system and has not been treated to meet FDA’s definition of “purified” or “sterile” water, the label must state that the source is from a community water system.
Bottled Water Terms
The following terms are frequently used on bottled water labels to describe the water’s characteristics, sources, and methods of treatment.
Artesian Water, Ground Water, Spring Water, Well Water- water from an underground aquifer which may or may not be treated. Well water and artesian water are tapped through a well. Spring water is collected as it flows to the surface or via a borehole. Ground water can be either.
Distilled Water- steam from boiling water is recondensed and bottled. Distilling water kills microbes and removes water’s natural minerals, giving it a flat taste.
Drinking Water– water intended for human consumption and sealed in bottles or other containers with no ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable disinfectants. Fluoride may be added within limitations set in the bottled water Quality standards.
Mineral Water– Ground water that naturally contains 250 or more parts per million of total dissolved solids.
Purified Water- water that originates from any source but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia definition of purified water. Purified water is essentially free of all chemicals (it must not contain more than 10 parts per million of total dissolved solids), and may also be free of microbes if treated by distillation or reverse osmosis. Purified water may alternately be labeled according to how it is treated.
Sterile Water- water that originates from any source, but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia standards for sterilization. Sterilized water is free from all microbes.
Note:Carbonated water, soda water, seltzer water, sparkling water, and tonic water are considered soft drinks and are not regulated as bottled water.
Bottled Water Certification
Neither EPA nor FDA certify bottled water. However, consumers may notice a logo or seal from other organizations on the label.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) - a trade organization for water bottlers. IBWA members must meet the organization’s “model code” and are subject to annual inspections by an independent third party. Bottlers belonging to IBWA frequently indicate membership on their labels.
NSF International - Bottled water certified by NSF undergoes additional testing by unannounced annual plant inspections. NSF certifications mean that the bottler complies with all applicable FDA requirements, including good manufacturing practices.
Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) - is an independent accredited testing and certification organization that tests bottled water to FDA, state, and IBWA model code requirements.
FDA Bottled Water Standards
Any bottled water sold in interstate commerce in the United States including products that originate overseas must meet FDA standards for physical, chemical, microbial, and radiological contaminants. When EPA sets a new standard for a contaminant in tap water, FDA must establish a new standard for the same contaminant in bottled water or find that EPA’s new standard is not applicable to bottled water. Bottled water produced and sold in the same state are not subject to FDA regulations. Check with your health department to see what bottled water standards exist for brands produced, bottled, and sold entirely in your state. Bottlers must include the name of the product and type of water; the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; and the net content on their labels.