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Pollutants in Bottled Water

Is Your Bottled Water Worth It?: Pollutants in Bottled Water

June 10, 2009

Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, all annual water quality reports (Consumer Confidence Reports) issued by community water suppliers must (EPA 2006b) report:

  • Levels of all regulated contaminants, any unregulated contaminants for which monitoring is required, and any disinfection by-products or microbial contaminants for which monitoring is required.
  • Likely source(s) of all detected contaminants, to the best of their knowledge.
  • Federal Maximum Contaminant Levels (federal drinking water standards) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (theoretical federal standards if only health concerns were taken into consideration and economic concerns and technical feasibility were not considered) for each contaminant detected.
  • Extensive statements on contaminants and their likely sources, including microbial contaminants, inorganic contaminants, pesticides and herbicides, organic chemical contaminants, and radioactive contaminants.
  • Potential health effects associated with arsenic, nitrate, lead, and the disinfection byproducts known as trihalomethanes if detectable levels are below the MCL but above certain health-based thresholds of concern.

These rules cover all public water systems with at least 15 service connections or that regularly serve 25 year-round residents (EPA 2006c).

In contrast, bottled water companies, which sell their products to thousands or millions of people, are not required to make public any of this.

Because of the California law that recently went into effect, a few more bottled water companies seem to be making available more water quality information. However, EWG’s analysis shows that these companies remain in the minority. EWG found that none of the 163 labels dating from 2008 indicated the availability of water quality reports were available, but 14% of the 2009 labels contained such information.

Only 20% of bottled water company websites indicated that water quality testing had been conducted. Just 18% – including Poland Spring, Nestlé Pure Life and Perrier – showed current bottled water quality reports, including contaminant testing results, on websites.