How confused are we about bottled water? Very – and rightfully so. As of 2012, approximately 60 percent of the people in the U.S. drink bottled water on a regular basis, according to the International Bottled Water Associate (IBWA).
Statistics show that last year, the average American consumed an average of 35 gallons of bottled water. That’s nearly 8 billion gallons of varied bottled versions of good ol’ H2O. And sales are growing at a rate of over 10% annually, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Two of the top sellers are Fiji from the South Pacific and Panna, sold in glass bottles in Italy.
The question remains: What are the health benefits of drinking bottled water? Is the quality better than tap? Is it tastier? What do mineral, spring, purified and artesian mean?
Most folks believe tap water to be unsafe and many feel it tastes bad. So fear of chemicals, herbicide and pesticide residues general contamination concerns, plus better taste in bottled waters, is what drives sales up.
Not all bottled water is classified as ‘bottled water’ accurately, according to the FDA. If a company does not disinfect their water, it is categorized as a “natural dietary supplement.” The oxymoron is that if a bottled water is truly pristine and bottled at the source, it should have a few, if any, impurities that would actually require disinfection.
The FDA defines spring water as any water found in an underground formation that flows naturally to the surface of the earth. The water can bubble up – Calistoga and Evian are in this category. Natural sparkling water is another category of spring water that contains carbon dioxide gas which lends bubbles to the product. Artesian water, or well water, is collected from naturally occurring underground springs. Pumps generally force the water to the surface for extraction. Fiji fits into this category. Mineral water is bottled water that contains not less than 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids. It can be either spring or artesian and contains naturally occurring minerals such as silica, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. By law, no additional minerals can be added. San Pellegrino and Perrier are mineral waters. Purified water (a subset of distilled water) may start out as tap water. Dasani, Smart Water and Aquafina are examples of waters known to be one step up from tap water. Phrases like ‘from a municipal service’ or ‘a community water system’ generally mean the water is tap, not spring. The IBWA’s website also has an information FAQ section and a list of the many companies that sell water.
The EPA sets the tap water standards that are the basis for the FDA’s bottled water regulations. However, any bottled water packaged and sold in the same state need only comply with that particular state’s regulations for purity. The particular agency responsible for water quality varies from state to state. For example, in Texas, it’s the Department of Health while in New York, it’s the Public Water Supply Protection Office. You can contact the IBWA for a listing of agencies in all 50 states.
Plastics are another concern. High-grade PET plastics are tasteless while HDPE – soft squishy plastic bottles – can impart a plastic taste. Many polycarbonate plastics contain bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogen mimicker that has been associated with early puberty, weight gain and cancers such as breast and prostate. If one freezes their plastic or allows the bottle to sit in a heated environment, these chemicals will activate, leeching readily into the water.
I prefer Hinckley Springs at home in a glass five gallon bottle and Panna by the case when I’m on the move. We use a Kangen system at our office which is phenomenal – check back for my next blog for more information on Kangen water!
Bottom line? Bottled water is regulated. It is generally safe, depending on our location and the reputation of your municipal water supply – at least safer and healthier than tap. Taste matters – so as long as consumers savor the taste and distrust tap, the bottled water boom will keep on!