Is Bottled Water Really Safe?
By Daria Donato ‘16
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 08:02
Americans buy over 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water each year, fueling a $10.6 billion industry.
The numbers have been steadily rising. In 1976, the average American consumed about a gallon and a half of bottled water per year. By 2011, the number skyrocketed to nearly 30 gallons, writes freshwater expert and author of Bottled and Sold Peter Gleick.
Many consumers believe that bottled water is a safer alternative to tap water, which is more likely to be contaminated. However, a number of studies have proven the paranoia wrong.
The EPA regulates tap water supplies, testing for over 80 contaminants like E. coli and requiring quality reports. When tap supplies become contaminated, suppliers have 24 hours to inform their customers, the EPA says.
The FDA, on the other
hand, regulates bottled water. It considers bottled water a food, and it does not require consistent, regulated lab testing like the EPA does, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The FDA monitors many of the same contaminants that the EPA does. However, the FDA says its bottled water standards do not apply to water packaged and sold within the same state. That rule exempts 60 percent of all bottled water, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says.
Additionally, the FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where their water came from, how it was treated, or what contaminants it contains, according to the Government Accountability Office.
There is ongoing research on bottled water sustainability. Unlike tap water, bottled water production uses almost 54 million barrels of oil. Eighty percent of plastic bottles pile up in landfills each year, the Columbia Water Center reports.
Not to mention, a Food and Water Watch Report states that 47.8 percent of bottled water is actually tap water—and that bottled water can cost 1,000 times more than tap.
That does not make bottled water all bad. It is necessary in developing countries, where municipal supplies are not as well regulated. Additionally, the NRDC claim that, despite looser regulations, most bottled water is perfectly safe to drink. Still, if you value the convenience of a plastic water bottle, try a reusable one instead.