Bottled water isn’t any safer than tap water, and could actually be more dangerous, according to a report from the Government Accounting Office. The big difference lies in the government regulator: tap water is covered by the Safe Water Drinking Act, administered by the aggressive and powerful Environmental Protection Agency, while bottled water falls under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act overseen by the powerless anything-goes industry-lovers over at the Food and Drug Administration.
In fact, bottled water makers are not required to disclose even as much information as your local municipality. If you live in a city of 10,000 residents or more, you probably receive a copy of a water report each year. The Solid Waste Disposal Act requires that public water systems test tap water for various contaminants using certified laboratories and issue a water-quality report, called the consumer-confidence report (CCR), once a year. (For particularly toxic contaminants, the SWDA requires results to be reported within 24 hours.) The CCR summarizes local drinking water quality, information about the water source, levels of detected contaminants, whether any of the detected contaminants exceed federal levels, as well as information on the potential health effects of certain contaminants. (If you live in a smaller town, consult the EPA’s Web site.)
In contrast, bottled water manufacturers don’t have to use certified laboratories nor report the results of any water quality testing to the FDA, even if the contaminants exceed federal standards. The GAO study also found that only a small percentage of the 83 bottled water labels looked at, companies contacted, or company Web sites reviewed contained information comparable to that required of tap water.
Consumer Reports tested bottled water in 2000 and found that it was safe when it met FDA standards, which wasn’t always the case. All water should be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, but since it isn’t, we’ll stick with tap water, thank you very much.