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Bottled Water: FAQ on Safety and Purity

Questions and Answers on Bottled Water and How It Compares to Tap Water

How can I tell if there are contaminants in the bottled water I purchase? continued...

The Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which released its own report critical of bottled water purity in 1999, want the FDA to require bottlers to list contaminants on water bottle labels.

In its report, the National Resources Defense Council noted that the EPA requires more frequent testing of municipal water than the FDA requires for bottled water, and that bottled water rules allow some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliforms, which indicate possible fecal matter contamination.

The report noted that the FDA does not require bottled water to be tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia; the EPA does require this testing for tap water.

Doss says consumers have a right to know what is in their bottled water, and they can find out by calling an 800 number that appears on every bottle. "If a consumer calls that number and does not get the information they want, they can and should choose another bottled water brand."

Does calling the 800 number really get you the information you want?

That depends on what you want to know.

WebMD called the 800 numbers found on three best-selling water brands, purchased at a minimart in Nashville, Tenn. In each case, we were able to find out the source of the water and the purification process used by the bottler.

But in all three cases we were told that there were no contaminants in the water we were calling about because of the extra purification. While this may be true, water quality experts say it is unlikely that the purification process removes all contaminants. And the Environmental Working Group investigation showed that some of the bottled waters they tested had the same type and level of contaminants as the tap water source used by the bottler.

The brands we checked included Pepsi's Aquafina, Coca-Cola's Dasani, and Deer Park Spring Water, marketed by Nestle.

When we called the Pepsi number, a customer service agent helped us find the date stamp and production code on the bottle of Aquafina we had purchased.

With this information, she was able to tell us that our water came from a municipal source in Mankato, Minn. She further informed us that the bottler used a seven-step purification process that included reverse osmosis, carbon, and UV light filtration.

When we called the Coca-Cola number, a customer service agent was able to tell us that our Dasani came from a municipal source in Birmingham, Ala., and that the purification process included reverse osmosis filtration.

Our Deer Park call was answered by a customer service agent who told us where our spring water was bottled and how it was purified.

Sarah Janssen, PhD, who is a scientist with NRDC, says the 800 numbers may help you figure out where the water you purchase comes from but not what is in it.

"I can't imagine that anyone standing in a store trying to make a decision about which water to buy is really going to go to all that trouble," she says.

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