Has this ever happened to you? You have company over and are trying to be polite. You offer them a beverage: coffee, tea, pop? “No, water is fine.” As you take a glass and began to fill it from the tap, you see your guest scrunch their nose. “Actually, I’m not thirsty, but thank you.” Some people believe tap water is unsafe, and that bottled water is safer because the companies who produce it have more regulations. But where do these bottling companies get their water? And how is bottled water regulated compared to how your tap water is regulated?
One of the main differences between bottled water and tap water is the regulatory office that oversees its production. It’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) responsibility to make sure that your tap water is safe. The EPA also puts together your annual water quality report. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it is sold as a food product. Both the FDA and the EPA have stringent regulations for the safety of its water, and acknowledge each other’s standards.“Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water. EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water systems; the FDA sets bottled water standards based on EPA’s tap water standards. Bottled water and tap water are both safe to drink if they meet these standards, although people with severely compromised immune systems and children may have special needs. Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all,” said the EPA in a statement on their website. “Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully read its label to understand what they are buying, whether it is a better taste, or a certain method of treatment. More information on bottled water is available from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) (www.bottledwater.org/), which represents most US bottlers.”
As instructed, I went to the IBWA’s website only to find this statement: “By federal law, FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least as stringent as the EPA regulations that govern tap water. And, in some cases, the bottled water regulations are more stringent.”
Confused yet? I sure was; both standards seemed to be based on the original EPA tap water standards. The bottled water standards have to minimally meet the EPA standards, if not exceed them, yet some bottled water is not even treated. How does that make sense? Luckily, a report done a year ago by the Drinking Water Research Foundation cleared up my confusion about the differences in the EPA’s and FDA’s standards.
The standards differ, but by very little. The report then continued to go into the details of these differences. It also pointed out that bottled water is monitored more frequently than tap. This is largely because of the sheer volume of tap water used in a day compared to bottled water that’s consumed in a day.
What it comes down to is this: it would be inaccurate to think that tap water is safer than bottled water, or bottled water is safer than tap. Regardless, you should know what you are drinking. Check your water report, or read the label of water you buy. Learn what contaminants are common for water in your area, and use a filter that will best protect you from them.
With safety not being the issue between choosing bottled and tap water, environmental factors may help you decide. By choosing tap over bottled, we reduce the amount of plastic that needs to be produced. Using a reusable bottle also limits the amount of plastic produced to create drinking bottles. Lastly, if you still choose bottled water, please make sure you recycle it!