Last year, Americans consumed seven and a half billion gallons of bottled water — that's more than double the amount a decade ago. Today there are more than 300 brands to choose from and the American market for bottled water is the world's largest. Ronni Sandroff, director of health information at Consumer Reports, and her team visited “Today” to give their advice and interpretation of the show's own water test.
We put both bottled and tap water to the test. Upstate Labs in Syracuse, N.Y., performed the tests on popular brands of bottled water as well as filtered and tap water from the Studio 1A kitchen sink, 30 Rockefeller Plaza office kitchen and from our Burbank kitchen sink. Upstate Labs checked the water for contaminants, mineral content, bacteria and disinfection byproducts.
Gratefully, there was nothing alarming about the results of our water test nor was there really a significant difference between the tap and bottled. That actually makes it interesting considering that bottled water is the fastest-growing beverage category in the nation today. It is estimated that 7.5 billion gallons of bottled water were consumed last year in the U.S., up 10% over 2004 numbers. An estimated 2 of every 3 people choose water in plastic. It's also estimated that the bottled water industry is a $46 billion industry globally.
Summary of Analysis
You can buy cheap
We found that when it comes to bottled water you can probably buy water according to taste. You should realize that most bottled waters that we tested contained the same ingredients.
Purified vs. spring
A lot of the bottled water you're buying is purified municipal or tap water. They have been well purified and some turned up a small amount of disinfection byproducts.
We found small amounts of trihalomethanes, which can become a health risk factor. THMs were detected in 5 out of 5 tap water samples and present in 3 out of 9 bottled water samples. There are clear benefits (fighting cavities) to having fluoride in water, a benefit you don't always get with bottled water (fluoride in 5 out of 5 tap water samples, in only 2 out of 9 bottle samples).
The filter we used kept the minerals but took out a considerable amount of chlorine byproducts and nitrates, and it improved the taste.
Types of water on the shelf
Purified drinking water has been processed by reverse osmosis, distillation, or similar procedures that remove minerals and contaminants. The source need not be named and is often tap water. Can be from any source (usually tap water), is filtered usually through activated carbon, which will remove chemicals, but probably not minerals and fluoride.
Spring water comes from an underground formation and must flow naturally to the earth's surface. Water is collected at the spring or through a hole that taps the source, and the source must be stated on the label. Spring water is typically protected from microorganisms sometimes found in surface water.
Artesian water is from a well in which water flows to the surface naturally, under it's own pressure, a pump is not needed (no known advantage). According to the folks at Fiji water, by definition, artesian water comes from a source deep within the earth, protected by layers of clay and rock. There is no opening, not even a porthole to the surface. As a result, the water never comes into contact with the air, protecting it from environmental pollutants and other contamination.
Mineral water contains at least 250 parts per million of dissolved solids — usually calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, silica and bicarbonates. Minerals must occur naturally. Mineral water is typically spring water and can be sparkling or still.
How do you find out what's in your tap water?
If you have your own well, regular tests of microbiological quality (coliform) are a good idea. If you have town or city water, and you know of a local problem (like arsenic or lawn chemicals), you could find an EPA-certified water test lab and test for that. Otherwise, a complete set of lab tests of water are very expensive.
Who should you ask for a water report?
Your local water utility. All local utility companies serving more than 10,000 customers are required by law to send annual water reports to consumers. Look for such factors as seasonal increases in contaminants and if you find them, you'll want to have your own water tested at that time of year. Immune-comprised individuals, pregnant women and infants, and the elderly might be at risk.
Bottled water is highly regulated as a packaged food product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and subject to FDA's extensive food safety, labeling and inspection requirements. By law, the FDA Standard of Quality for bottled water requires that regulations for bottled water are at least as stringent and protective of public health, according to the International Bottled Water Organization.
Municipal water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, with frequent testing performed by the agency and local authorities. American Waterworks Director Jack Hoffbauer says that “over 90 percent of the water utilities in this country comply with the EPA regulations and there's no tougher regulations in the world.”