What You Need to Know About the Safety of Bottled Water

bottled water safety

Bottled water safety is top of mind of many consumers.

With few exceptions, purchasing bottled water is an unnecessary expense and a blight on the environment. The first time I saw a plastic water bottle for sale, I thought, “How ridiculous! Why would someone purchase water in a bottle?” How shortsighted I was. Bottled water is now a huge industry.

There are several different categories of bottled water in the market. These include distilled water, mineral water, purified water, sparkling water, and spring water. Bottled water is considered to be a food product and is therefore regulated by the FDA. According to regulations, bottled water must be 100% free of coliform bacteria and must be virtually lead- free. Interestingly, most municipal water sources will allow their water to contain up to three times more lead than is allowed in bottled water. Although this sounds like the bottled water industry is tightly regulated, it isn’t. Believe it or not, the US municipal water regulations in general are much more stringent than the regulations for the bottled water industry. Aside from bacterial and lead content, the regulatory requirements for bottled water are sparse.

Two water sources provide bottling companies with their product. These are fresh springs and municipal or treated water systems. According to the EPA, water may be classified as spring water if it comes from a groundwater source that flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a well. Companies that bottle spring water are not required to disclose exactly where their water sources are located.

Naturally, the content and characteristics of spring waters vary depending on their sources. If the total number of dissolved solids in the water is greater than 250 ppm, the water is considered to be mineral water. Calistoga is a popular brand of mineral water. If water contains carbon dioxide (CO2), it is labeled sparkling water. If CO2 is lost from the water during processing, it may be added back at the same concentration it had when it emerged from its source and still be marketed as sparkling water. Perrier is a common brand of sparkling water.

Much of the bottled water sold in the US is taken directly from municipal water systems and purified prior to bottling. The two most popular brands of bottled water in this category are produced by the two rival cola companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsico. These bottles of repackaged water may not contain more than 10 ppm of dissolved solids and must be treated to remove chemicals and pathogens through distillation, deionization, and/or reverse osmosis techniques. Aquafina, bottled by Pepsi, is UV-disinfected and ozonated. On the other hand, Dasani, bottled and distributed by Coca-Cola, is treated with reverse osmosis filtration prior to bottling.

Unfortunately, even though one would think that bottled water safety is a settled issue — free from hazardous toxins and bacteria — the Environmental Working Group in 2009 revealed thirty-eight low-level contaminants in bottled water, including:

  1. Disinfection byproducts
  2. Caffeine
  3. Tylenol
  4. Nitrates
  5. Industrial chemicals
  6. Arsenic
  7. Fluoride
  8. Bacteria

Included within the broad group of “industrial chemicals” are contaminants associated with the storage and distribution of water in plastic bottles. Although approved by the FDA, chemicals found in plastics previously deemed safe for the handling and storage of food have been discovered to cause disease — and can have serious effects on bottled water safety. These include:

  • PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) – Flame-retardant chemicals used in This category of chemicals has been linked to reproductive problems and thyroid disease.
  • Phthalates – Found in many household products, these are a family of chemicals that increase the flexibility of plastic, but are now known to disrupt the endocrine They have also been shown to damage the reproductive system in animals.
  • BPA (bisphenol A) – Another additive to plastic that has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen. BPA is associated with unwanted hormonal effects in children and adults, even at low concentrations. As a result, industry has largely replaced BPA. Unfortunately, “BPA-free” plastic containers have also been found to contain other estrogen-mimicking chemicals.

There are numerous compounds used in the production of plastic and manufacturers are creating new chemical compounds each year. The potential for adverse health effects from many of them has yet to be determined.

If you do drink water from plastic containers, keep your plastic water bottles out of direct sunlight and away from all sources of heat, as heat increases the amount of chemicals that leaches out of the plastic and into the water. In addition, changes in pH can cause the chemicals in a plastic water bottle to leach into the water, so don’t add a squirt of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or the like to your water. Keep bottles away from detergents, cleansers, solvents, and automotive supplies and make sure that you don’t handle your plastic water bottle if you have solvents such as paint thinners, gasoline, or other petroleum products, including Vaseline, on your hand, as they can be absorbed into the plastic. Even particles from solvents, including household cleaning products, if left uncapped, can aerosolize, attach, and become absorbed into plastic bottles, thereby diffusing into your water. Plastic bottles should not be washed in a dishwasher or by hand for reuse.

Reverse osmosis water provided by a manufacturer may initially be a more purified product than well water obtained from some locales, but after packaging and storage, it’s hard to accurately gauge any bottled water safety. If you need to drink bottled water, opt for glass bottles whenever possible. Perrier is a good option if you like sparkling water. My suggestion, though, would be to have a home filter that will purify your well or tap water and then transport your drinking water with you in a reusable glass bottle for your daily use. Yes, it means that you have to plan ahead each day by filling your water bottle before you leave your house to go to school or work. It also means that you have to wash your glass bottle daily. But think of all the money you will save by not buying bottled water every day. Not only that, you will be drinking healthier water and lessening your ecological footprint. Try it!

Here’s a similar consideration of the issues concerning the safety of tap water.