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Water, Water, Everywhere continued...

"In order to make an educated decision about what water to drink, you have to look to individual vulnerabilities," says Brenda M. Afzal, RN, MS, a specialist from the University of Maryland School of Nursing who has consulted for the government on drinking water standards.

While contaminants found in some municipal sources won't bother the average person, she says, some may be affected.

"Pregnant women, babies, the elderly, people who are immune-compromised, cancer patients, or those on long-term steroidal use may benefit from choosing certain bottled waters over their particular tap water," Afzal tells WebMD.

While she says some municipal water systems are as good or better than some bottled waters -- even for these populations -- if you fall into one of these groups, you should make the effort to find out for sure. And that may not be so easy.

The EPA requires local water systems to tell us what's in our drinking water (usually in a report mailed to your home yearly; some reports are available on the EPA web site). But right now only one bottled water company -- Athena -- reports being approved for immuno-suppressed patients. Finding out how other bottled waters fare may take a bit of digging.

"Write or email the company and ask, and at the very least check the label, to make sure the water is put through some filtration before being bottled," says Afzal. "Look for the voluntary NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certification or at least a state certification that the water is meeting certain standards of purity."

No matter how pure the source is, Afzal says, contamination can also occur at the bottling plant, so certifications are vital.

What You Want, When You Want It

Health vulnerabilities aside, experts say that sometimes, bottled water can also give you something municipal water can't -- a choice.

A case in point is fluoridation -- the process of adding the chemical fluoride to municipal water systems to help protect teeth. But not everyone agrees it's helpful or even safe -- and that's where Kay says bottled water can help everyone get what they want.

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