North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 22, 2011

Is there a difference in bottled, tap water?

Health Watch

By Steve Mullenix
The North Jefferson News

WARRIOR — I can remember a time when no one had the nerve to sell water. It was laughable when bottles of water first began to be sold. Really? Pay for water?

When you think about how much we now pay for water, a gallon of water can cost much more than a gallon of gas. Now I wish I had thought of it!

What makes bottled water so popular? This surge in bottled water sales is primarily due to the marketing and public perception that the purity of the water in the bottle is better due to the pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs on the labels.  

But the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) , a well-organized environmental interest group, has funded many studies to compare bottled water and ordinary tap water. Their studies have shown that bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than the tap water in most municipal water systems.  

In testing more than a thousand bottles of 103 different brands of water, most of the water tested was found to be of a high quality. The down side is that in about one-third of the water tested, contamination levels of synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria and even arsenic exceeded the allowable limits in common tap water.  

Another interesting fact is that it was estimated that about 25 percent of the bottled water tested actually was tap water, sometimes with some additional treatments, sometimes not.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for bottled water safety, but the FDA’s rules completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold within the same state, which accounts for about 60-70 percent of all the bottled water sold in the U.S. Roughly, about 20 percent of the states don’t regulate these water products, either. The FDA also exempts carbonated water and seltzer, and fewer than half the states required carbonated waters to meet their own bottled water standards. So I guess the question is: Who’s watching the store?

Varieties of bottled water

Let’s dissect the issue a little more. Did you realize there are several different varieties of bottled water? Products can be labeled as bottled water, drinking water or several other names. The following definitions for bottled waters have been authorized by the FDA.

• Artesian water  or artesian well water is from a well that taps a confirmed aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand).

• Drinking water is sold for human consumption in sanitary containers and contains no sweeteners or chemical additives. It must be calorie-free and sugar-free. Drinking water must be sodium-free or contain very low amounts of sodium.

• Mineral water contains not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids.

• Purified water has been treated with processes such as distillation, deionization or reverse osmosis. Basically, this means that the bacteria and dissolved solids have been removed from the water.

• Sparkling bottled water, the fizzy kind, contains the same amount of carbon dioxide as it did when it emerged from its source.

• Municipal or tap water is type of water we have in our homes. While not regulated by the FDA, it must meet strict standards defined by the Environmental Protection Agency.  

• Well water comes out of the ground from a well, usually drilled by an individual for personal use.  his water is not regulated by any agency, and is generally of an excellent quality.

• Distilled water is any water that has been through a heat distillation process in an attempt to purify or improve the overall quality of the water by removing the impurities.

NRDC recommendations

The NRDC also makes the following recommendations for improving bottled water safety precautions (and remember these are just recommendations):

• The FDA should set strict limits for contaminations or concerns in bottled water.

• The FDA’s rules should apply to bottled water nationally and within the state in which it is packaged.

• Water bottlers should be required to disclose water source, treatments and other key information as is now required of tap water systems.

• State bottled water programs should be subject to federal review.

While Americans who choose to buy bottled water deserve the assurance that it is safe, the long-term solutions for our water use continues to be to ensure that safe, clean, good-tasting drinking water comes from the tap.