Where does your bottled water come from? 7/12
(This article is adapted from the July 2012 Consumer Reports magazine.)
Sales of bottled water are on the rise, according to market researchers. But if you're going to pay for a product that you could get for free, it helps to know what you're actually buying.
Below you'll find a "water label glossary" with some standard definitions of label terms from the FDA. Along with that information, note that if you see terms on bottles, like "glacier water" and "mountain water," there's no standard definition for those terms.
Although bottled water, often advertised as a "pure" and "natural" alternative to tap water, is generally safe, it's actually less regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) than municipal water supplies. The EPA is responsible for regulating the safety of tap water (municipal or public water supplies), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of bottled water.
Bottled-water makers aren't required by the FDA to disclose where their water comes from, how it was treated, or what contaminants it might contain. Disclosure is purely voluntary (except in California). And the bottled stuff is subject to a less stringent safety standard than tap water.
Whatever the bottle says, don't be misled by crisp blue labels and pictures of mountains. Purified tap water is the source of much of the bottled water produced in the U.S., according to industry data. Many consumers could cut out the middleman (and produce far less plastic waste for municipal landfills) by investing in a water filter and reusable water bottle to tote when they're on the go.
If you're concerned about the water quality in your area, but don't want to pay for bottled water, check out the recommended water filters
Bottled water label glossary
Water obtained from a well that taps a confined aquifer, an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water. Example: Fiji Natural Artesian Water.
Water that has been boiled and then re-condensed from the steam that the boiling produces. Distillation kills microbes and removes minerals, giving water a flat taste. Example: Glacéau Smartwater.
Groundwater that naturally contains at least 250 parts per million of dissolved solids. All minerals and other trace elements must be present in the water when it emerges at the source. Example: Calistoga.
Public water source, also known as municipal water supply, or tap water. Fact: Aquafina, one of the top 10 selling domestic brands, used to say "P.W.S." on its label, but changed that in 2007 under pressure from Corporate Accountability International to make clear that the water came from a public supply and not some pristine mountain spring called P.W.S.
Water from any source ( including from the tap) that has been treated to remove chemicals and pathogens according to standards set by the U.S. Pharmacopaeia (USP). Must contain no more than 10 parts per million of dissolved solids. Distillation, deionization, and reverse osmosis are all purification methods. Examples: Aquafina, Dasani.
Water that contains carbon dioxide at an amount equal to what it contained when it emerged from its source. Carbon dioxide lost during the treatment process may be added back. (Carbonated waters such as soda water and seltzer are considered soft drinks, not bottled waters.) Example: Perrier.
Water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the Earth’s surface. Spring water must be collected at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation (aquifer) feeding the spring. Examples: Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water (Nestlé), Evian.
Drinking water: Bottled doesn’t mean better. 9/11
Environmental Working Group Bottled Water Scorecard 2011.