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Bottled Water Safer Than Tap?

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Members of Congress were recently briefed on two new studies that question whether bottled water is safer than tap water. Following the meeting, the Congressional committee sent letters to thirteen companies requesting more information regarding the source of their water and how it is tested. Congressman Bart Stupak, chairman of the oversight committee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated neither consumers nor federal regulators know enough about the origins of the bottled water and what safeguards are in place to ensure its safety; consumers purchase the bottled water for health benefits, however, they do not know the actual quality of the water.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water because it is considered a food. Since 1999, the EPA requires municipalities to annually distribute reports to consumers disclosing the source of their water and any contaminants found in testing, along with the potential health risks from these contaminants. Tap water providers are also required to notify customers within twenty-four hours if the water’s contaminants exceeded federal levels; this rule does not apply to bottled water. Additionally, bottled water companies are not required to have their water tested by certified laboratories.

Two new reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, question whether the federal regulation is sufficient. The environmental group asks that companies that produce bottled water release the same detailed information that is required of tap water providers. Almost one-third of bottled water, for example, has no information regarding the source of the water on its labels. Some Congressmen, however, question the need for regulation on bottled water, calling it a “secondary” issue to all of the more life-threatening situations the FDA faces.

In response to the two studies, the FDA announced that by fall it would require bottlers report the results of tests displaying whether their products pose health risks. In the meantime, FDA officials say not to worry about the safety of bottled water since it is monitored and inspected.