Photo by Anggie

With new energy retrieval technologies storming our environmental scene, such as hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), news regarding chemicals of concern in our municipal drinking water systems, and recent evidence that bottled water may be even more dangerous to our health than our regular tap water, it is nearly impossible to understand what information to trust and what water is safest to drink.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bottled water is not necessarily safer than your regular tap water. Our nation’s tap water standards and regulations are determined and set by the EPA, whereas bottled water standards and regulations are set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), based on the tap water standards set by the EPA. This sounds safe, but only if these standards are regularly enforced and met.

While some high-end, more expensive brands of bottled water are treated more than tap water, some are treated less or simply not treated at all. Additionally, according to the EPA, bottled water costs much more than tap water on a per-gallon basis. The key issue is the bottled water industry’s geographic source and ingredient ambiguity. In 2011, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comprised a label survey of bottled water to better understand what is in the water and exactly where it came from.

In their 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard, the EWG asked three simple questions:

  1. Where does the water come from? 
  2. Is it purified? How? 
  3. And, have any tests found contaminants?

Only one of the ten most popular bottled water brands, Nestlé’s Pure Life Purified Water, provided specific information on the bottle about their water source and treatment method. Brands such as Pepsi’s Aquafina, Coca-Cola’s Dasani, 6 of 7 Nestlé brands, and Crystal Geyser all failed to answer a single one of these simple questions. EWGs Scorecard for Transparency ranks filtered tap water as the best option.

The FDA has repeatedly been criticized for lax implementation of bottled water standards and regulations, and for turning a blind eye to the bottled water industry almost completely. Despite the fact that the Governmental Accountability Office demanded more rigid disclosure practices by the FDA, companies have continued to ignore state laws to keep information from consumers. In a new study, the EWG found that 18% of bottled water brands failed to reveal their water source, 32% exempt information of treatment and purity methods, and 13% publish their water quality testing reports but lack actual robust test results entirely.

Are bottled water companies keeping their source information a secret because their water is actually the municipal tap water? Are we paying for what we are lead to believe is a cleaner, healthier product, but is actually the same product we get from our tap in a falsely advertised plastic water bottle? Or worse…do companies refuse to provide water quality test reports and data because there is something to hide?

Reality Check – Every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottles of water to circle the equator with empty plastic containers.
Not only are we paying more money for bottled water whose quality is undefined and kept secret, our environment is suffering massive consequences. Also, on top of being unaware of what chemicals and/or additives may be in bottled water, it is imperative to remember that plastics used to make the bottles can contain chemical additives that leach into the water, such as Bisphenol A (BPA). Eliminating use of plastic bottles is both good for our earth and us.

The skinny.
Since we can’t seem to get a straight answer on what’s in our bottled water it may be best to stick with tap water. The EPA strictly enforces tap water standards and regulations. Water quality tests are routinely run and the results are readily available to the public. Further, for extra protection from potential contamination, point source water filtration devices can be used directly on your home tap. Keeping in mind that the container you keep your water in is equally as important as the water you’re drinking, I also suggest using a pure food-grade stainless steel or glass container.


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Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Wasserman of joins Conscious Magazine to launch a column on Consciously Clean Living . This topic is important to Elizabeth because of her passion for empowering people to lead healthier lives through honest, accurate, relatable and personally-tested information. Check out her interview and feature here.