Study: Bottled Water No Safer Than Tap Water

By Mark Baumgartner

May 3, 2001 — Bottled water is the world’s fastest growing beverage, but consumers would be better served by simply turning on the tap, asserts an environmental group.

Bottlers of water generally capitalize on consumer concerns about municipal water supplies, creating demand for their product via an association with pristine environs. Some bottled waters, however, differ from tap water merely by being distributed in bottles rather than through pipes, according to a report commissioned by Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund International.

“Bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water, while selling for up to 1,000 times the price,” the report said.

The reason, according to the environmental group, is an absence of standards regulating bottled water. “In fact,” said the report, “there are more standards regulating tap water in Europe and the United States than those applied to the bottled water industry.”

From Source to Finished Product

Not surprisingly, the bottled water industry disagrees with the assertion that bottled water is regulated less rigorously than tap water.

“At least in the United States, bottled water is regulated as a packaged food product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said Stephen Kay of the International Bottled Water Association. “It meets specific standards of quality and safety from the source all the way though the finished product.”

Bottled water is a necessity in parts of the world without a safe source of potable water, Kay said, and an option for consumers in countries with adequate public water supplies.

In a survey last year, the association found that the average American drinks about a half-dozen eight-ounce servings of a water each day. Bottled water accounts for 2.3 of those servings.

Bottled water users were twice as likely as others to cite health for their choice of beverage, the study found. Fifty-six percent of bottled water users cited taste and 55 percent cited convenience as the strongest influences on their decision to drink bottled water. Slightly more than one in three users of bottled water said their trust in the treatment and the source of the water as reasons that influenced their choice of beverage.

‘Clean Water Is a Basic Right’

The World Wildlife Fund International report is part of the organization’s campaign to improve the quality and safety of tap water. Biksham Gujja of the organization told Reuters the group is considering a public awareness drive in Europe to draw attention to the issue.

The report says the $22-billion-a-year bottled water industry uses 1.5 million tons of plastic annually to package water. The manufacture and disposal of plastic causes toxic chemicals to be released into the environment.

Furthermore, the group worries about release of carbon dioxide, a major threat to the ozone, from the transportation of bottled water. The report said billions of gallons of bottled water are consumed outside of the country of their origin.

“Bottled water isn’t a long-term sustainable solution to securing access to healthy water,” said the WWF’s Richard Holland. “Clean water is a basic right. Protecting our rivers, streams and wetlands will help ensure that tap water remains a service which delivers good quality drinking water for everyone at a fair price.”