Bottled Water Faces New Scrutiny

Last Updated Jul 10, 2009 10:42 AM EDT

Bottled water, long the enemy of environmentalists, is now getting picked on over a new issue: regulation. As in, there really isn't any. Tap water, it turns out, is regulated more strictly than water sold in a bottle.
As a food product, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and required to show nutrition information and ingredients on its labels. Municipal water is under the control of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The two agencies have similar standards for water quality, but the FDA has less authority to enforce them, the GAO said, and the environmental agency requires much more testing.

The Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Working Group both put out reports on the issue this week, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation held a hearing on Wednesday. Bottled water companies have been asked to submit information about their water sources, testing methods, and any history of contamination or customer complaints by August 10.

After enjoying years of growing sales, bottled water has been falling out of favor lately. Part of it is the economy -- it's become harder to sell bottled water for money when tap water is cheap and readily available. But there's also been a growing number of bottled water bans by universities, businesses, churches and local governments, not just to save money but also to stop the unnecessary production of so many plastic bottles, many of which never wind up recycled. A small town in Australia this week became the first to ban sales of bottled water entirely.

It's gotten so bad that some companies, like Nestle Waters, felt the need to defend themselves and run ads claiming that bottled water is healthy and wholesome -- or even "the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world."

And now we're seeing revelations that bottled water companies aren't even required to report findings of dangerous contaminants the way municipal tap water suppliers are. For an industry already in trouble, this can't possibly be a good thing.

Related stories on BNET:
Is Environmentalism Killing Bottled Water, Or is it Just the Economy?

  • Katherine Glover