The consumption of bottled water has greatly increased in the last twenty years. This is due to the highly successful marketing campaigns for bottled water that portray their water as “pure and natural.” Which in return makes consumers believe that their home’s tap water is unhealthy for them to drink. However, this is a widely believed misconception about tap water. In actuality, tap water is healthier for drinking than bottled water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates standards for municipal tap water while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water. The EPA creates standards for the maximum amount of contaminates allowed in our drinking water. The FDA can choose to adopt or neglect these standards when it comes to bottled water. According to Andrew Postman, a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Bottled water plants must test for coliform bacteria just once a week; city taps need to be tested 100 or more times a month.” John Stephenson, the Director of Natural Resources and Environment for the United States Government Accountability Office, claims, “The FDA does not have the specific statutory authority to require bottlers to use certified laboratories for water quality tests or to report test results, even if violations of the standards are found.” This means that the level of contaminates in bottled water cannot be trusted. When municipal water is tested for contamination the information is collected and sent out to the municipality’s residents once a year in an annual water report. This report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report, is required by the EPA and contains information on contaminants found, possible health effects, and the water’s source. The FDA does not require bottled water companies to divulge this information to consumers. A reason for this is because the FDA does not have the authority over bottled water companies to require them to do so.
I’ve also found that fluoride is commonly added to tap water but it is removed from bottled water during the purification process. Lina Huerta-Saenz writes in her article, “Tap or Bottled Water: Drinking Preferences Along Urban Minority Children and Adolescents,” that the FDA does not require water bottles to list natural fluoride content but does require listing of any added fluoride. Bottled water is known to be low in fluoride since it’s purified, deionized, demineralized, distilled or prepared by reverse osmosis. Bottled water companies are not adding fluoride to their product. In addition, the perceptions of the qualities of water seem to be driving the drinking preferences. As Huerta-Saenz states, only 24% were even aware of the effects of the lack of fluoride in water. Communities with fluoridated water, prefer consumption of bottled water over tap water and that may have a detrimental effect on children’s oral health. In contrast, to community tap water, most bottled waters contain fluoride at levels that are less than optimal for the prevention of tooth decay. Therefore, there has been a correlation between the increased consumption of bottled water and the increased rates of tooth decay in children.
I’ve also found sources that claim a chemical called DEHP is used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles for bottled water. This chemical is found to cause developmental and growth problems for children along with other negative effects. Andrew Postman says, “Chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time.” He goes on to explain that although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water. Sara Goodman writes in, Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, GAO Says, “More than a decade ago, EPA issued a standard for DEHP in public drinking water. The FDA deferred proposing an allowable level for bottled water because the chemical is allowed in some food packaging.”
There is also the factor to consider that information is more readily available about municipal/ tap water and there is a lack of information about bottled water. A reason for the lack of information about bottled water is because the FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose information about the contents of their water. According to Huerta-Saenz, “Information about chemical and microbiological quality of tap water is far more easily available for tap water than for bottled water.” The wealth of information available regarding community tap water violations may have enhanced mistrust in the national water systems. With that being said, lack of data for bottled water plus the marketed image of purity may have led to the perception of safety.
A contributing factor to the question of tap water safety occurred during the highly publicized municipal water issue that is known as, the Flint Michigan Water Crisis of 2015. This incident caused people across the entire country to become skeptical about the water coming out of their tap. As CNN reported, the Flint Water Crisis was caused by city officials deciding to construct a new pipeline designed to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint in an attempt to cut annual water costs. During the construction of this pipeline, it was decided to use the Flint River as a water source until the project was completed. Four months after the switch, fecal coliform bacteria was detected in the water so Flint decided to pump high levels of chlorine into the water system. Ten months after the initial switch to Flint River water, the Environmental Protection Agency detected dangerous levels of lead in the water measured at 104 parts per billion which exceeds the 15 parts per billion limit set by the EPA for all drinking water.
It is important to have a true understanding of how drinking water is mandated and controlled. Becoming aware of the process can only help the public and local communities. Even though there may be isolated instances of water contamination, in most cases, tap water has proven to be the healthier option. It is tested on a more regular basis and still contains a lot of the minerals that our body needs. Bottled water may seem convenient, but think twice next time you put that plastic to your lips.
Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts. (2018, April 09). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/index.html
Goodman, S. (2009, July 09). Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, GAO Says. Retrieved from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/07/09/09greenwire-fewer-regulations-for-bottled-water-than-tap-g-33331.html
Huerta-Saenz, L., Irigoyen, M., Benavides, J., & Mendoza, M. (2011, June 04). Tap or Bottled Water: Drinking Preferences Among Urban Minority Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-011-9415-1
Office, U. G., & Stephenson, J. (2009, July 07). Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-610