Bottled Water

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).

  1. Your tap water is contaminated with pollutants at a level higher than the MCL. If you are on a public water supply, and a MCL has been exceeded, your water supplier is required to notify you. However, if you are on a private supply and you suspect your water has been contaminated, it will be up to you to have your water tested for contamination.
  2. Your water has a strange taste or smell, that you cannot live with. This is a personal choice, and is not based on the healthfulness of the water, but just on the water's aesthetic properties.

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
Consumer Inquiries
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



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  1. Mel Bromberg and Doug Peterson. "Bottled Water, Crystal Clear Choice, or Cloudy Dilemma?" Cooperative Extension Service, College of Agriculture, University of Illinois, Urbanna-Champaign. June 1994. URL:
  2. Is Bottled Water Safer? Purdue University, Extension Service. Department of Agriculture and Biological Engineering, West Lafayette, IN. (no date). URL:

  URL Reference

  1. George Marchin, Tip Sheet, How Safe is the Water You're Drinking. Kansas State University, Sept. 4, 1997: URL:

This page was prepared by S.L. Keyser June 1997, UCD EXTOXNET FAQ Team.
Revised by B.T. Johnson, October 1997.