The Tidal Wave of Bottled Water

It used to be that water was a simple way of quenching your thirst. Now it is a designer beverage. But is there really a difference between tap water and bottled waters?

A Wide Selection

IMAGE Walk into any supermarket, drug store, convenience store, vending area, or shopping mall, and you are likely to find an array of bottled water brands. It is estimated that Americans now consume more than 400 billion gallons of bottled water per day. Yet, many people are surprised when they find out exactly what is in bottled water.The definition of bottled water is pretty straightforward: any water (generally containing no additives) intended for human use that is sealed in a bottle or other container. What is surprising, however, is the source of bottled water. Because, in addition to natural sources, such as artesian, spring, mineral, purified, and sparkling water, approximately half of all bottled waters originate in municipal water supplies.

Is Bottled Water Regulated?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies bottled water as a food and regulates it according to standards from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. According to FDA rules, bottled water products must be tested each year to be certain they are free of, or contain only trace amounts of, certain contaminants. These include:
  • Inorganic chemicals, such as barium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and nitrates
  • Herbicides and pesticides: a broad group of organic chemicals that includes polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Volatile organic chemicals, such as benzene (a gasoline product) or tetrachloroethylene (cleaning solvents)
  • Radioactive components, such as radium
  • Coliform bacteria: a microorganism that indicates other disease-causing bacteria may be present
In addition, bottled water is tested for aesthetic contaminants such as iron, zinc, sulfate, or chloride, as well as other physical characteristics which, though not posing a health hazard, can negatively affect the taste, odor, or appearance of the water. Many state environmental agencies and industry trade groups may also require testing.Water is classified as "bottled water" or "drinking water" if it meets all applicable federal and state standards, is sealed in a sanitary container, and is sold for human consumption. Bottled water cannot contain sweeteners or chemical additives (other than flavors, extracts or essences) and must be calorie-free and sugar-free. Flavors, extracts, and essences derived from spice or fruit can be added to bottled water in small amounts. In addition, bottled water may be sodium-free or contain "very low" amounts of sodium. Some bottled waters contain natural or added carbonation.

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