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Bottled Water: FAQ on Safety and Purity

Questions and Answers on Bottled Water and How It Compares to Tap Water
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How can I tell if the water I purchase started out as tap water?

Roughly 45% of the water sold in single-serve bottles comes from a municipal water source.

By law, bottled water that comes from a municipal water supply has to disclose this on its label unless the bottler takes steps to further purify the water, which most do. In this case, the label will say "purified water" or "purified drinking water," but the original source is probably tap water.

Water labeled "spring water" comes from an underground water spring, but it may be piped to the bottling plant.

"Mineral water" comes from an underground source and must contain no less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids, such as salts, sulfur compounds, and gasses. No minerals may be added to the water by the bottler.

"Artesian water" or "artesian well water" must come from a well that taps a confined aquifer.

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

You probably can't. Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires yearly public reports identifying the contaminants found in local water sources. But bottled water is regulated by the FDA, which has no such requirement.

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."

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