Last updated on January 21, 2018
Over the past ten years, bottled water sales have more than tripled to $22 billion a year. These revenues are shared by the 475 American bottled water plants that produce over 600 different types of bottled water brands.
One out of every six U.S. households uses bottled water as their primary or sole source of water.
Sole source or not, more than half of the American population uses bottled water. California residents alone consume more than 33 percent of all U.S. bottled water. While the bottled water industry capitalizes on the public’s concern about tap water safety by producing advertisements depicting crystal clear springs, towering mountains and pristine glaciers, consumers continue to buy, spending from 240 to more than 10,000 times more for a gallon of bottled water than they do for a gallon of tap water. According to the FDA’s own research study, one fourth of all bottled water is actually bottled tap water.
It is accurate then, to assume that bottled water is safer or purer than tap water? It is a common belief that bottled water is somehow healthier than tap water, a belief that is far from true. One of the biggest downfalls to bottled water is its lack of essential minerals, specifically magnesium and calcium. These two minerals rarely exist in bottled water, but exist naturally in tap water. Deficiencies in magnesium and calcium are associated with heart disturbances, including 215,000 fatal heart attacks in the U.S. each year. This health icon that bottled water companies have created, raises numerous concerns.
Bottled water offenses
Marketing is often misleading using terms such as spring water when, in at least one case, the ‘spring water’ was actually garnered from a well outside the plant and contained unsafe levels of industrial chemicals.
Between 60 and 70 percent of American bottled water is exempt from complying with FDA rules because the FDA does not govern “water packaged or sold within the same state”. The FDA does not also regulate seltzer or carbonated water.
Nearly 40 states admit they do not regulate such waters, which means more than half of U.S. bottled water is not required to meet the bottled water standards that are in place.
However, when it comes to city tap water, the EPA — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — has far stricter regulations in place that include:
No confirmed E. coli. Bottled water does not include this restriction.
City tap water must be disinfected and filtered. There are no filteration or disinfection requirements for bottled water. This discretion is left up to the state.
City water must be tested 100 times per month for coliform. Bottled water, once a week.
Repeated offenses of high levels of bacteria in tap water can be cause for a city violation. This rule does not apply to bottled water companies.
Most U.S cities are required to test for water pathogens known to cause intestinal problems such s diarrhea. Bottled water companies are not required to comply.
Cities must have their water tested by government-certified labs. This is not required of bottled water companies.
City water systems are required to provide a detailed right to know report that tells people what’s in their water. This is not required of bottled water companies.
The FDA, in combination with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently tested over 1,000 bottles of water from 103 different brands and found most to be of “good” quality, but admit the quality of some brands was “spotty” due to one third of the bottled waters containing significant contamination in the way of bacteria or chemical contaminants.
They found that nearly one in four bottles of water (23 of the 103 tested) were in violation of California limits for bottled water for containing cancer-causing synthetic organic compounds or arsenic. Two of the brands were in violation for containing excessive fluoride and coliform bacteria, while one brand contained phthalate — a cancer-causing chemical that leaks from plastic — at two times the standard of tap water.
Eighteen of the 103 were in violation of excessive bacteria as allowed under the microbiological-purity guidelines, however, 34 of the 103 or 33 percent of the tested bottle waters, were in violation of microbial contaminants.
The NRDC has made great strides with updates to water regulations. According to their website, they say, “We are pleased to report recent regulatory action based on NRDC’s advocacy. Since the publication date, the FDA has agreed to more stringently regulate bottled water safety to NRDC’s standards. Our two main recommendations, to test for and ban water sources contaminated with E. coli and to regulate the level of di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) consistent with EPA regulations, are now in place.”
“In addition, through three leading independent laboratories, we conducted “snapshot” testing of more than 1,000 bottles of water sold under 103 brand names. What NRDC has found is in some cases reassuring and in others genuinely troubling…our investigation has found that potentially harmful chemical contaminants are indeed sometimes found in some brands of bottled water…in our limited bottled water testing, while strict health-protective state limits for chemicals sometimes were not met by about one fourth of the waters, the weaker federal bottled water standards generally were not violated.”
The NRDC also says in their updated report, “Some bottled water labels remain misleading to consumers” and that “bottled water marketing is often false and misleading.”
You can read more about the NRDC’s article on Ensuring consumers’ right to know about bottled water.