More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!
Bottled water was in the headlines several times this week, including a piece in the New York Times.
Not only is bottled water a poor environmental choice, but according to two new reports, one from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the other from the Environmental Working Group (EWG ), filtered tap water may actually be a safer and healthier choice.
Unlike providers of tap water, who must provide detailed information about the source and treatment of their water, the bottled water industry is less regulated, therefore bottled water labels can be misleading or lacking in information.
Stricter labeling for bottled water?
At an oversight hearing on the gaps in government regulation of the bottled water industry earlier this week, the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce was briefed on the reports. After the briefing, they decided to send letters to 13 companies requesting more information about the source of their water and how it is tested.
The EWG is pushing for stricter labeling. Their report recommends that bottled water labels and websites disclose the same information that the law requires of municipal water utilities and urged the committee to make this disclosure mandatory.
Only 2 of 188 bottled waters they surveyed make public three basic facts about their products routinely disclosed by municipal water utilities: the water’s source, purification methods and chemical pollutants remaining after treatment.
The EWG is calling on bottled water companies to:
* Provide easy-to-access water quality reports disclosing all test results and
containing the information required in Consumer Confidence Reports for tap
* List on the label water treatment methods; and clear, specific information on the
water source and location; and
* Test for unregulated chemicals that may leach from plastic bottles.
FDA versus EPA
Bottled water companies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which give beverage corporations complete latitude to choose what, if any, information about their water they divulge to customers.
In comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that oversees the nation’s municipal water utilities, requires all 52,000 community tap water suppliers nationwide to produce an annual water quality report.
According to EWG, “Many people assume bottled water is healthier and safer to drink than ordinary tap water. But some companies have lured consumers away from the tap with claims of health and purity that aren’t backed by public data. The ugly truth is that under lax federal law, consumers know very little about the quality of bottled water on which they spend billions every year.”
If you must choose bottled water
The EWG urges consumers to make their first choice filtered tap water.
If you must choose bottled water, they recommend picking a brand that provides full water source, treatment and quality disclosure and that use advanced treatment methods to remove a broad range of pollutants. Their scorecard gives the highest scores to: Nestle Pure Life, Ozarka Drinking Water, Penta Ultra-Purified Water and Sam’s Choice.
Waters marketed as elite, including Perrier, S. Pellegrino and the Whole Foods store brand, flunked because they provided almost no meaningful information for consumers.
Pressure from consumers and advocacy groups is growing for transparent and accurate labeling on products. While many of us are sold on the evils of bottled water, even the best of us might grab a bottle now and then.
However, figuring out which brand to grab is no easy task. While the EWG report focuses on the information presented on labels, it doesn’t rank taste nor quality of the source.
Perhaps the town of Bundanoon is onto something. They just passed a law to become the first bottled water-free town.
Shops in the town will now be banned from stocking and selling bottled water and filtered water fountains will be placed on Bundanoon’s main street.
Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. And you can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.