Drink the Water

, Heather Latham, Leave a comment

In a report posted on enjoybottledwater.org, Angela Logomasini, Ph.D. states, “Bottled water regulation is at least as stringent as tap water regulation. Yet a key line of attack against bottled water comes from environmental activists and others who complain that bottled water does not comply with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] standards for tap water, suggesting that bottled water standards are lower. As a result, they say, bottled water quality may not even be as good a tap water quality. These arguments were outlined in the ‘study’ released by the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] in 1999. However, such arguments don’t mesh with reality.”

Tap water and bottled water fall under two different government jurisdictions, she goes on to explain. Standards for tap water are set by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Bottled water standards are set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Logomasini says, “The FDA regulations are based on EPA standards and are mostly the same, with the exception of a few areas where tap water regulations don’t make sense or where the FDA includes additional or more stringent requirements. According to the EPA, both sets of standards produce bottled and tap water that is safe.”

She points out, “There are some cases where the standards vary because of differences between delivery systems. Since tap water travels through pipes, regulations need to address potential contamination from pipes. Sanitary packaging for bottled water means that regulations related to food and food packaging apply to bottled water.”

One complaint that activists have is that despite where the water really came from, companies are sticking on labels that claim spring water. Logomasini says, “Information found on the label is also regulated by the FDA. Labeling regulations demand that bottled water labels contain only accurate information. Products that don’t meet FDA standards are considered ‘misbranded.’ Regulatory definitions for specific terms—‘ground water,’ ‘mineral water,’ ‘purified water,’ ‘sparkling water’—are all defined in FDA regulations.”

“Nonetheless, some environmental activists have suggested that bottled water is of a lower quality,” Logomasini points out, “because FDA only regulates water in ‘interstate commerce.’ They suggest that a large share of bottled water is produced solely intrastate and hence they lead the public to believe that such water must be of a lower quality because it does not fall under FDA jurisdiction… In addition to the fact that states regulate bottled water to ensure safety, bottled water has a tremendous safety record, with very few problems reported.”

Logomasini argues that “the idea that bottled water providers produce water that is lower quality than demanded by FDA is highly unlikely. In fact, the data in NRDC’s own report on bottled water shows that an overwhelming majority of bottled water meets or exceeds federal water standards. According to NRDC it ‘commissioned independent lab testing of more than 1,000 bottles of 103 types of bottled water from many parts of the country.’ NRDC reports that only ‘four waters’ failed (two exceeded standards for fluoride and two for coliform bacteria) to meet federal standards. The NRDC claims that this amounts to 4 percent failure rate, which indicates a success rate of upwards of 96 percent.” As she says, “That is an impressive record.”

For more reading:

Don’t Drink the Water

Heather Latham is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.


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