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Sales of bottled water have sharply risen in recent years because of a growing public perception that bottled water is absolutely free from all impurities. But bottled water sold in the United States is not cleaner or safer than most tap water, states a scientific study conducted by NRD whose report was recently made public.

NRDC had conducted an exhaustive and elaborate study testing more than 1,000 bottles of 103 different brands of bottled water. Though most of the tested waters were found to be of pure quality, few brands were found to be contaminated. About one-third of the waters tested contained unacceptable levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic.

Another pertinent NRDC observation was bottled water regulations are not adequate to guarantee consumers of purity or safety. As bottled waters are covered by the FDA's rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than city tap water. Bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants.

Further there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected for parasites unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. Thus bottled water is quite likely to pose a health threat to people with weak immune systems, such as aged people, infants, transplant or cancer patients and those with HIV/AIDS. The general public perception that tap water quality is less safe has led to the growth in bottled water sales. It is startling to know that about one-fourth of bottled water is actually bottled tap water, according to government and industry estimates. Quite often, the actual source of bottled water is not made clear and some bottled water labels are also ambiguous.

The NRDC report found that samples of two brands were contaminated with phthalates and in one case exceeding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for tap water.


NRDC has made some strong recommendations for improving the safety of bottled water:
• The FDA should set strict limits for contaminants in bottled water.
• The FDA's rules should uniformly apply to all bottled water distributed nationally or within a state.
Bottled water standards must be made as rigid as those applicable to city tap water supplies.
• Make it mandatory for water bottlers to disclose water source, treatments and other key information on the labels.
• An extra penny-per-bottle fee may be levied on bottled water to fund testing, regulatory programs, and enforcement at both state and national levels.


Since NRDC report, no major regulatory changes seem to have been made and bottlers have also not altered their procedures in any meaningful way. In a nutshell, most of us continue to drink bottled tap water after paying fanciful prices as bottlers are not required to list the source on the label. The long-term solution to drinking water problems is to ensure that NRDC recommendations are rigidly imposed or safe, clean, good-tasting drinking water comes from our taps that we may dispense with bottled water altogether.
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