For many families, mine included, bottled water is just another regular item on the grocery list. Many choose whatever store brand is cheapest, while others purchase the bottles with images of mountain springs, expecting a superior product. However, few (including myself until recently!) have ever taken a deeper look at the food label or what exactly is in the water they are drinking.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are both responsible for regulating the safety of drinking water. The EPA oversees the tap water system while the FDA regulates bottled drinking water. Most would expect bottled drinking water to be safer than tap water. However, the FDA’s bottled water regulations are not any stricter than the EPA limits for tap water and in most cases, are the same.
Unlike municipal water companies, bottled water companies are not required to make their water testing results public. In addition, although there are specific requirements and standards for bottled water companies to meet, the “FDA generally accords bottled water a low priority” compared to the other food products it regulates. This leaves room for companies to reduce the frequency and thoroughness of water testing, which has in the past led to dangerously high levels of contaminates.
In 2008, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, tested 10 major brands of bottled water for contaminants. Among the brands tested, 38 pollutants, including fertilizer, Tylenol, and industrial chemicals, were found in the water. Four of the brands were even contaminated with bacteria. But how can this be? A main reason behind this is due to a large portion of the bottled water supply coming straight from our tap water system. While some of the brands claim to be purified via systems such as distillation or reverse osmosis, many, such as Market Pantry and Great Value, still fail to provide water quality reports.
Many brands, such as Market Pantry Purified Water, claim to be “purified” in some way but fail to explain exactly how. This brand does, however, provide a phone number to call for a water quality report. I decided become a bit of a detective and call the number. After being placed on hold for over 10 minutes, a woman finally answered. Despite specifically calling the number listed on the bottle for water quality information, she reported that she could not find that information and would reach out to the vendor. She ensured me I will receive the information the next day – it has now been 5 days with no report in sight.
In the case that a good quality bottled water is purchased, consumers should also be wary of the bisphenol-a (BPA) still commonly found in plastic. This compound is well established as an endocrine disrupting chemical. It leeches out of packaging materials into foodstuffs. Exposure to this chemical has been associated with increased risk of various diseases including diabetes, polycystic ovarian disease, and cancer.
As you may have guessed, tap water is not always much better. To provide consumers with easily accessible information on their local water quality, the EWG developed their own Tap Water Database. I highly recommend typing in your zip code to find out what contaminants have been detected in your local water supply.
Although this may seem overwhelming, there are still many simple and affordable ways to ensure you are drinking clean, safe water. Here are some of my favorite options:
- Find a spring! Spring water has been filtered through the earth itself, making it the most pure type of water (more on this to come). I love using findaspring.com to locate springs near me. I bring tons of glass containers and load up! Plus it’s free and fun for kids!
- Purchase a water filter for your sink. Based on the contaminants found in your local water, use this water filter buying guide to choose the filter that is best fit for you and your needs. You can also buy a water filtration system, such as this one, that is powerful enough to filter bacteria, pesticides, VOCs, and lead without removing beneficial minerals.
- Purchase glass bottled water or spring water in BPA-free bottles. Make sure the water you buy is from a reliable source. From my research, both Deer Park and Aquafina have water quality reports on their website that either meet or exceed the FDA standards. However, the plastic unfortunately is not BPA free.
*Note: Storing water in glass or stainless steel containers bottles is best!
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