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?
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 two billion gallons of bottled water per year. 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, and sparkling water, approximately 25% of all bottled waters originate in municipal water supplies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies bottled water as a food and regulates it according to standards from the 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:
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 require that as a condition for selling bottled water in that state, the water be tested for certain additional contaminants not tested for by FDA. Finally, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), a large industry trade group, also requires that its member companies test for certain contaminants not covered by FDA.
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, but these additions must comprise less than 1% by weight of the final product. Beverages containing more than the 1%-by-weight flavor limit are classified as soft drinks. In addition, bottled water may be sodium-free or contain "very low" amounts of sodium. Some bottled waters contain natural or added carbonation.
Not necessarily. The requirements for testing of municipally supplied tap water are generally just as stringent as those required for the testing of bottled water. However, there may be other reasons to choose bottled water, such as:
There are a few reasons not to drink bottled water:
Many people now opt for drinking water filtration systems (either filtered containers into which tap water is poured or filtration systems that are directly hooked to the tap). These systems, which are more economical than bottled water, generally improve the taste, appearance, and odor of tap water and may also remove some contaminants. A note of caution, however. In most (if not all) cases, such systems should not serve as a substitute for bottled water if your tap water comes from a private water supply system subject to little or no regulation or testing, or from a municipal water supply system that has temporarily become contaminated.
Today's supermarket shelves offer an array of bottled waters. But what do the terms on the labels really mean? The International Bottled Water Association defines the following types of bottled water:
US Environmental Protection Agency
US Food and Drug Administration
Food and Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Bottled water. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/product-specificinformation/bottledwatercarbonatedsoftdrinks/ucm077065.htm. Updated November 13, 2011. Accessed July 29, 2012.
Ground water and drinking water. United States Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://water.epa.gov/drink/. Accessed July 29, 2012.
US Department of Agriculture. Bottle water: know the facts. Iowa State University website. Available at: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/pm1813.pdf. Accessed June 14, 2010.
Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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