Bottled water consumption is increasing as evidenced by a study from the International Bottled Water Association. They showed that the U.S. average annual consumption of bottled water has risen from 5.7 gallons per person in 1987 to 8 gallons per person in 1991 (1). But is bottled water safer than tap water?
Bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whereas tap water is monitored under guidelines set by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is not to say that the FDA's guidelines are any less strict than the EPA's. In fact, most of the guidelines used by the FDA are the same as the EPA uses. In some cases, the FDA is even more stringent in its regulations as can be seen below (1).
|Compound||EPA MCL||FDA Allowable Level|
|Lead||0.015 PPM||0.005 PPM|
|Copper||1.3 PPM||1.0 PPM|
|Fluoride||4.0 PPM||1.4-2.4 PPM|
Bottled water is not necessarily pure. Contaminants are allowed at levels within the FDA's limits. In addition, between bottling companies there may be changes in the concentrations of contaminants, due to different processing techniques and differences in the water used (1).
Bottled water can come from a variety of sources, not just from springs, as implied by many companies. The water can come from wells, springs, and municipal water supplies. The water is then treated in a variety of ways including ion exchange filters, carbon filters and ozonation. The ozonation is equivalent to chlorination since it disinfects and removes organic matter, but it is more expensive and the extra cost is carried over to the consumer (1). The good news is that new regulations require water labeled as spring water to have come from a spring, and water from a municipal source must be labeled as such(2).
There are two reasons to switch over to bottled water (1).
If you would like more information about regulations on bottled water, as well as more information on where bottled water comes from, the University of Illinois, Cooperative Extension Service is a good source for this information. If you prefer the convenience of bottled water, but are concerned about the shelf life, microbial contamination, or would just like some tips from an expert on water disinfection, the Kansas State University Tip Sheet is a good source. More information can be found at the University of Iowa Fact Sheet on Bottled Water.
Additional information can also be found at the following addresses:
For Standards on bottled water:
Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane HFE 88
Rockville, Maryland 20857
If you want to know more about treatment of bottled water:
Water Quality Association
National Headquarters and Laboratory
4151 Naperville Rd.
Lisle, IL 60532
And, if you would like more information about standards and practices of some bottled water companies:
International Bottled Water Association
113 N. Henry St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-2973
This page was prepared by S.L. Keyser June
1997, UCD EXTOXNET FAQ Team.
Revised by B.T. Johnson, October 1997.