Bottled Water vs. Tap Water: Which is really safer?
Do you drink bottled water because you believe it to be safer and healthier than tap water?
In our efforts to make informed decisions and take responsibility for our own health and well-being, it makes sense to take a hard look at one of our most basic health needs — safe drinking water.
While tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state and local governments, bottled water is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration, and according to the non-profit consumer organization, FoodandWaterWatch.org:
40 percent of bottled water originates from the tap, with added minerals or filtration.
Municipal water is not permitted to contain E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. FDA rules for bottled water include no such prohibitions.
Municipal water from surface sources must be filtered and disinfected, or it must have strict pollution controls. There are no filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water at the federal level. The only source-water protection, filtration or disinfection provisions for bottled water are delegated to the states.
Cities must have their water tested by government-certified labs. No certification requirement exists for bottlers.
Municipal tap water must be tested for coliform bacteria 100 or more times per month. Bottled water plants only have to test once a week.
In a June 9, 2009 report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office, stated:
FDA and state bottled water labeling requirements are similar to labeling requirements for other foods, but the information provided to consumers is less than what EPA requires of public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Like other foods, bottled water labels must list ingredients and nutritional information and are subject to the same prohibitions against misbranding.
In 2000, FDA concluded that it was feasible for the bottled water industry to provide the same types of information to consumers that public water systems must provide. The agency was not required to conduct rulemaking to require that manufacturers provide such information to consumers, however, and it has not done so.
Nevertheless, GAO’s work suggests that consumers may benefit from such additional information. For example, when GAO asked cognizant officials in a survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, whether their consumers had misconceptions about bottled water, many replied that consumers often believe that bottled water is safer or healthier than tap water. GAO found that information comparable to what public water systems are required to provide to consumers of tap water was available for only a small percentage of the 83 bottled water labels it reviewed, companies it contacted, or company Web sites it reviewed.
Above and beyond the health issue, bottled water comes at a much higher price than does tap water, both economically and environmentally. That’s two strikes against bottled water. So is it really safer than tap water?
More on water: 25 Things You Might Not Know About Water