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Drinking Water Information
Bottled Water or Tap Water?

Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?

bulletBottled vs. Tap Water?

Frequently asked questions - check here!


Conclusions: The Bottom Line


Complete listing and Summary of NRDC's test results for- Bottled Water Contaminants Found


Is your tap water safe?

bulletCheck YOUR local water supply
bulletWhat do you need to know ?
bulletWhat do you do if there is a problem?
bulletOther resources?
bulletRegulations and standards
bulletNational drinking water standards
bullet State regulations
bulletWhat are the different types of bottled water?
bulletFact sheets bulletabout drinking water safety
bulletabout contaminants in drinking water
bulletTips to make your water at home safer and cleaner bulletCertified labs that test drinking water bulletEPA's Water on Tap: A Consumer's Guide to the Nation's Drinking Water. What You Need To Know

Where does your drinking water come from? How do you know if your drinking water is safe? How can you protect it? What can you do if there’s a problem with your drinking water?   To help answer these -- and other -- questions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepared Water on Tap: What You Need To Know (EPA 816-K-03-007, October 2003)  Download it here: PDF Version (1.3 MB PDF File, 36pgs) (All About PDF Files) 
or To order a copy by mail:

Water On Tap, #634D (Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery)
Consumer Information Center
Pueblo, CO 81009
Order Online      

bulletNRDC's Report bullet Executive Summary bullet Chapter 1: Principal Findings and Recommendations bullet Chapter 2: Exploding Sales - Marketing a Perception of Purity bullet Chapter 3: Bottled Water Contamination - An Overview of NRDC's and Others' Surveys bullet Chapter 4: Gaping Holes in Government Bottled Water Regulation bullet Chapter 5: Misleading Bottled Water Labeling and Marketing bullet Chapter 6: Ensuring Consumers' Right to Know About Bottled Water bullet Appendix A: Bottled Water Contaminants Found bullet Appendix B: Documented Waterborne Disease From Bottled Water bullet Appendix C: Summary of State Bottled Water Programs bullet Report Credits and Acknowledgements

Test Results bullet Appendix A: Bottled Water Contaminants Found

Tables bullet Table 1: Key Differences Between EPA Tap Water and FDA Bottled Water Rules bullet Table 2: Selected Contaminants of Potential Concern for Bottled Water bullet Table 3: Summary of Lab Testing Protocols bullet Table 4: Selected Nitrate Levels Found in Bottled Waters bullet Table 5: Selected Synthetic Organic Compounds (Other Than THMS) in Bottled Water bullet Table 6: Comparison of Health Standards: Tap Water Versus Bottled Water bullet Table 7: Contaminants That Must Be Monitored in City Tap Water But Not in Bottled Water

Figures bullet Figure 1: U.S. Bottled Water Market, 1976–1997, Gallonage bullet Figure 2: Why People Drink Bottled Water bullet Figure 3: U.S. Bottled Water Market Share 1994 bullet Figure 4: Contaminants Found in Bottled Water bullet Figure 5: Arsenic in Selected Bottled Waters bullet Figure 6: Significant Trihalomethane (TTHM) Levels in Bottled Water bullet Figure 7: Selected Heterotrophic Plate Count (HPC) Bacteria Levels in Bottled Water bullet Figure 8: Bacterial Growth in Two Bottled Waters bulletFor printed copies of this report, see NRDC's Publications List.

While bottled water marketing conveys images of purity, inadequate regulations offer no assurance.  The National Resources Defense Council, a well-organized environmental interests group, funded a study to compare bottled drinking water against ordinary tap water.  Unless you remember the problems that Perrier had over 10 years ago with contamination in their water, the results may surprise you. Those of us who work in environmental sciences and engineering usually drink tap water, if that tells you anything!  EHSO is studying the NRDC report, and we will shortly provide our summary and opinion.  In the meantime, these pages link to the report so you can read it, too.

And if the absurdly high price of bottled water and this report doesn't convince you to switch to tap water (with a good water filter on it!) then also consider the following:

bulletLeave an unopened bottle of water from the store in a sunny location for a month.  Still want to drink it? bulletDentists report a dramatic rise in cavities for the first time reversing the trend of decline.  One possible reason: bottle water contains no Flouride, which protects teeth; while tap water is usually fluoridated. bullethorizontal rule

From the NRDC:

bulletOverview (below bulletFAQs - Answers to commonly asked questions bullet Full text of the NRDC report horizontal rule


Girl Drinking Bottled Water

NRDC's Test Results
Waters to Watch
Waters Testing Clean

Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years, largely as a result of a public perception of purity driven by advertisements and packaging labels featuring pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs. But bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water, according to a four-year scientific study recently made public by NRDC.

NRDC's study included testing of more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water. While most of the tested waters were found to be of high quality, some brands were contaminated: about one-third of the waters tested contained levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic -- in at least one sample that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines.

A key NRDC finding is that bottled water regulations are inadequate to assure consumers of either purity or safety, although both the federal government and the states have bottled water safety programs. At the national level, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for bottled water safety, but the FDA's rules completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold within the same state, which account for between 60 and 70 percent of all bottled water sold in the United States (roughly one out of five states don't regulate these waters either). The FDA also exempts carbonated water and seltzer, and fewer than half of the states require carbonated waters to meet their own bottled water standards.

Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA's rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water (see chart below). For example, bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria. Similarly, there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. This leaves open the possibility that some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS.

Some Key Differences Between EPA Tap Water and FDA Bottled Water Rules
Water Type Disinfection Required? Confirmed E. Coli & Fecal Coliform Banned? Testing Frequency for Bacteria Must Filter to Remove Pathogens, or Have Strictly Protected Source? Must Test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Viruses? Testing Frequency for Most Synthetic Organic Chemicals
Bottled Water No No 1/week No No 1/year
Carbonated or Seltzer Water No No None No No None
Big City Tap Water (using surface water) Yes Yes Hundreds/ month Yes Yes 1/quarter
(limited waivers available if clean source)
See Table 1 of NRDC's bottled water report for further comparisons and explanations.

Ironically, public concern about tap water quality is at least partly responsible for the growth in bottled water sales, which have tripled in the past 10 years. This bonanza is also fueled by marketing designed to convince the public of bottled water's purity and safety, marketing so successful that people spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically do for tap water.

In fact, about one-fourth of bottled water is actually bottled tap water, according to government and industry estimates (some estimates go as high as 40 percent). And FDA rules allow bottlers to call their product "spring water" even though it may be brought to the surface using a pumped well, and it may be treated with chemicals. But the actual source of water is not always made clear -- some bottled water marketing is misleading, implying the water comes from pristine sources when it does not. In 1995, the FDA issued labeling rules to prevent misleading claims, but while the rules do prohibit some of the most deceptive labeling practices, they have not eliminated the problem.

Some examples of interesting labels NRDC observed include:

"Spring Water" (with a picture of a lake surrounded by mountains on the label) -- Was actually from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.

Alasika™ -- "Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water: Pure Glacier Water From the Last Unpolluted Frontier, Bacteria Free" -- Apparently came from a public water supply. This label has since been changed after FDA intervention.

Vals Water -- "Known to Generations in France for its Purity and Agreeable Contribution to Health . . . Reputed to Help Restore Energy, Vitality, and Combat Fatigue" -- The International Bottled Water Association voluntary code prohibits health claims, but some bottlers still make such claims.

(What are the different types of bottled water?  Click here)

NRDC makes the following recommendations for improving bottled water safety precautions:

bulletThe FDA should set strict limits for contaminants of concern in bottled water.
bulletThe FDA's rules should apply to all bottled water distributed nationally or within a state, carbonated or not, and bottled water standards must be made at least as strict as those applicable to city tap water supplies.
bulletWater bottlers should be required to disclose water source, treatments and other key information as is now required of tap water systems.
bulletA penny-per-bottle fee should be initiated on bottled water to fund testing, regulatory programs, and enforcement at both state and national levels.
bulletState bottled water programs should be subject to federal review.

Ultimately, however, while Americans who choose to buy bottled water deserve the assurance that it is safe, the long-term solution to our drinking water problems is to ensure that safe, clean, good-tasting drinking water comes from our taps. Those who are particularly concerned about the quality of their tap water can take action by 1) calling their state drinking water program or the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800 426-4791) for a list of state certified labs; and 2) purchasing filters certified by NSF International (800 NSF-MARK) to remove the contaminants of special concern to the consumer (NSF certification is not, however, a complete guarantee of safety).

Click here for the complete listing and SUMMARY OF NRDC'S TEST RESULTS - Bottled Water Contaminants Found


Key Differences Between EPA Tap Water and FDA Bottled Water Rules

Note: To print this chart, in the Print dialogue box choose Properties and Paper and set to Legal and Landscape and click OK; under Print Range choose "from 1 to 1" and click OK (this will print one page and lock in settings); then use Print Preview to determine which page(s) to print.
Water Type Disinfection Required? Confirmed E. Coli & Fecal Coliform Banned? Testing Frequency for Bacteria? Must Filter to Remove Pathogens, or Have Strictly Protected Source? Must Test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Viruses? Testing Frequency for Most Synthetic Organic Chemicals? Operator Must be Trained & Certified? Must Test for and Meet Standards for Asbestos & Phthalate? Must Use Certified Labs to Do Testing? Must Report Violations to State, Feds? Consumer Right to Know About Contamination?
Bottled Water No No 1/week Noa No 1/year No No No No No
Carbonated or Seltzer Water No No None No No None No No No No No
Big Cityb Tap Water (using surface water) Yes Yes Hundreds/ month Yes Yes 1/quarter
(limited waivers available if clean source)
Yesc Yes (though limited waivers available if clean source) Yes Yes Yes
Small Townd Tap Water (using a well) No
(though new rule in 2002 will require if needed)
Yes 20/month No
(unless subject to surface contamination)
No 1/quarter (waivers available if clean source) Yesc Yes (though waivers available if clean source) Yes Yes Yes

a. FDA requires state or local approval of bottled water sources, but there is no federal definition or control of what may be a bottled water source; the FDA "approved source" requirement thus has been called a "regulatory mirage."

b. Big city refers to city system serving 100,000 people or more. A big city using only wells would have to comply with all requirements noted for a surface water-supplied city, except that if its wells were not under the influence of surface water, it currently would not have to disinfect, filter, or test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, or viruses. A new rule for such groundwater-supplied systems must be issued in 2002, which may require some cities using wells to disinfect or filter and do additional microbial monitoring.

c. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 require states, subject to EPA guidelines, to train and certify operators of all public water systems. EPA's rules to implement this provision are required to be issued by February 1999.

d. Small town refers to a town of 20,000 people. Such a small town using surface water would have to comply with all the same requirements noted for a large city using surface water, except the monitoring frequency for coliform would be 20/month, and there currently are no Cryptosporidium, Giardia, or virus monitoring requirements for small towns.

Source: NRDC

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The Bottom Line: Conclusions

NRDC conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry and the safety standards that govern it, including a comparison of national bottled water rules with national tap water rules, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. Their conclusion is that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle -- sometimes further treated, sometimes not. If you want the safest, cleanest, best tasting water; EHSO's recommendation is install a good water filter on your tap!  (We like the PUR series)

Bottled Waters to Watch and Those Testing Clean

Water, State of Purchase & Comments
Water, State of Purchase & Comments
Alhambra Mountain Spring Water (CA)
Heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria in some bottles over 500 colony forming units/milliliter (cfu/ml) guideline
Deer Park (DC, NY)
No contaminants of concern found in four tests
Appollinaris (CA)
Arsenic above California warning level
Naya (CA, NY)
No contaminants of concern found in four tests
Black Mountain Fluoridated Water (CA)
Heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria over 500 cfu/ml guideline in some bottles; fluoride levels exceed FDA and California standards for warm weather areas
Rocky Mountain Drinking Water (CA)
No contaminants of concern found in two tests
Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water (CA)
Arsenic in excess of California warning level and World Health Organization and European Union standards
San Pelligrino (CA)
No contaminants of concern found in two tests
Lady Lee Drinking Water (CA)
Trihalomethanes in excess of California and industry standards
Vons Drinking Water (CA)
No contaminants of concern found in two tests
Lucky Seltzer Water (CA)
Trihalomethanes in excess of California standards (and over industry standards, which don’t apply to seltzer)
Vons Natural Spring Water (CA)
No contaminants of concern found in two tests
Master Choice (NY)
Heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria over 500 cfu/ml in some bottles

Odwalla Geothermal Natural Spring Water (CA)
Fluoride level in excess of California and FDA standard for warm weather areas

Poland Spring (DC)
Heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria over 500 cfu/ml guideline in some bottles; 1996 excess chlorine recall

Private Selection Drinking & Purified Waters (CA)
Trihalomethane levels above California and industry standards

Publix Drinking Water (FL)
Trihalomethanes above industry standard

Safeway Drinking Water & Purified Water & Club Soda & Select Seltzer & Spring Water (all CA)
Trihalomethanes above California and industry standards

Vittel Mineral Water (CA)
Arsenic in excess of California, World Health Organization, and European Union standards

Volvic Natural Spring Water (CA)
Arsenic in excess of California, World Health Organization, and European Union standards

Note: This list is intended to be read with the NRDC Petition to FDA Regarding Bottled Water and the attached report Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype. Conclusions about individual waters should not be made from this list alone. These results are provided for information only to assist in deciding what further research is needed, and should not be used as a sole basis for choosing a brand of water or reaching conclusions about the overall quality of the water. As noted in the text of the reports, the NRDC "snapshot" testing was not complete and not necessarily statistically representative of the quality of all bottles of the waters tested. For further information, review the full report, including Table 2: Selected Contaminants of Potential Concern for Bottled Water, and the summary of test results in Appendix A.

Photo: Photodisc

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Bottled Water Types

What are the different types of bottled water?

There are several different varieties of bottled water. The product may be labeled as bottled water, drinking water or any of the following terms. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) product definitions for bottled water are:

Artesian Water / Artesian Well Water: Bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand) in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer.

Drinking Water: Drinking water is another name for bottled water. Accordingly, drinking water is water that is sold for human consumption in sanitary containers and contains no added sweeteners or chemical additives (other than flavors, extracts or essences). It must be calorie-free and sugar-free. Flavors, extracts or essences may be added to drinking water, but they must comprise less than one-percent-by-weight of the final product or the product will be considered a soft drink. Drinking water may be sodium-free or contain very low amounts of sodium.

Mineral Water: Bottled water containing not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids may be labeled as mineral water. Mineral water is distinguished from other types of bottled water by its constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source. No minerals can be added to this product.

Purified Water: Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes and that meets the definition of purified water in the United States Pharmacopoeia may be labeled as purified bottled water. Other suitable product names for bottled water treated by one of the above processes may include "distilled water" if it is produced by distillation, "deionized water" if the water is produced by deionization, or "reverse osmosis water" if the process used is reverse osmosis. Alternatively "_____________ drinking water" can be used with the blank being filled in with one of the terms defined in this paragraph (e.g. "purified drinking water" or "distilled drinking water").

Sparkling Water: Water that after treatment and possible replacement with carbon dioxide contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source. (An important note: soda water, seltzer water and tonic water are not considered bottled waters. They are regulated separately, may contain sugar and calories, and are considered soft drinks.)

Spring Water: Bottled water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation and the spring. Spring water collected with the use of an external force must be from the same underground stratum as the spring and must have all the physical properties, before treatment, and be of the same composition and quality as the water that flows naturally to the surface of the earth.

Well Water: Bottled water from a hole bored, drilled or otherwise constructed in the ground which taps the water of an aquifer.

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Shelf Life of Bottled Water

How long is a bottle of water good if it remains sealed?
In the United States bottled water's shelf life is date stamped for two years. It should be stored in a dark, cool, dry area away from any solvents or chemicals. I have tasted a bottle of Mountain Valley that was bottled several decades ago and the seal (in this case a metal cap) was still intact. The water was excellent, and except for some mineral crystals at the bottom on the glass, was identical to a fresh bottle of Mountain Valley.

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) further adds:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the quality and safety of bottled water, has neither set nor suggested any limitation to the shelf life of bottled water.You may notice that most bottled water containers sold at retail bear a two-year expiration date. This acts as a lot number and is for stock rotation purposes. It does not mean the product is substandard after that date. Thus, bottled water purchased in bulk is good indefinitely if stored appropriately. Appropriately means unopened in a cool, dry place away from odors and toxic substances.For those yearning for a more technical explanation, it is thus: Bottled water is considered to be of virtually no significant nutritional value. Therefore, unlike milk, fish or poultry, bottled water is not an adequate substrate for pathogens responsible for the majority of food-borne illnesses. In that regard, IBWA's general position is that as long as bottled water is packaged in accordance with FDA processing and good manufacturing practices, 21 CFR, Part 129, and meets the FDA quality standard provisions as outlined in 21 CFR, Part 165, the product's shelf life should remain intact for an indefinite period provided that product storage and other post-packaging and handling practices do not adulterate or deleteriously affect the finished product. Whew!

By the way, the size of the container is irrelevant. Bottled water is a federally regulated pure food product packaged and distributed in individually coded discrete sanitary containers. It adheres to a strict regimen of testing and analysis. IBWA members must also adhere to standards tougher than the FDA requirements and must also submit to annual surprise inspections by an independent third party inspection organization (National Sanitation Foundation/NSF International). For a list of bottled water regulations and IBWA members, visit IBWA's web site

Plastic Taste in Bottled Water

Do plastic bottles cause a taste in bottled water?

Certain lower grade plastics such as HDPE (high-density polyethylene), which is used in the milk industry, can give a plastic taste to water. Many water bottlers have switched to high-grade, (and more expensive) PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which does not pass on any plastic taste to water.


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