Most Bottled Water Brands Don’t Disclose Information About Source, Purity and Contaminants

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Most Bottled Water Brands Don’t Disclose Information About Source, Purity and Contaminants

Congress Holds Investigative Hearing into Bottled Water Industry

WASHINGTON -  An Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation of almost 200 popular bottled water brands
found less than 2 percent disclose the water’s source, how the water
has been purified and what chemical pollutants each bottle of water may
contain. Just 2 of the 188 individual brands EWG analyzed disclosed
those three basic facts about their water.

Full report found here:

Jane Houlihan, EWG Senior Vice President for Research, discussed the
findings of the 18-month long study in testimony today before a
congressional oversight hearing on the gaps in government regulation of
the bottled water industry.

Some of the more interesting discoveries were that mainstream brands
such as Sam’s Club and Walgreen’s scored relatively high marks, while
waters marketed as elite, including Perrier, S. Pellegrino and the
Whole Foods store brand, flunked because they provided almost no
meaningful information for consumers.

Why the glaring lack of disclosure? Houlihan said that bottled water
companies enjoy a regulatory holiday under the Food and Drug
Administration’s (FDA) Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which give beverage
corporations complete latitude to choose what, if any, information
about their water they divulge to customers.

In contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- the
federal agency that oversees the nation’s municipal water utilities --
requires all 52,000 community tap water suppliers nationwide to produce
an annual water quality report: The utilities’ reports detail water
source and pollutant testing results for customers, as required under
the Safe Drinking Water Act. An estimated 58 percent of these reports
also describe water treatment methods.

“Many people assume bottled water is healthier and safer to drink
than ordinary tap water. But some companies have lured consumers away
from the tap with claims of health and purity that aren’t backed by
public data,” Houlihan said. “The ugly truth is that under lax federal
law, consumers know very little about the quality of bottled water on
which they spend billions every year.”

“The Bottled water industry's strategy has been to market bottled
water as the safe and clean alternative to tap water,” said Wenonah
Hauter, executive director of the non-profit consumer advocacy group
Food & Water Watch. “This myth has been used to trick consumers
into paying thousands times more for a product that is the same or even
more polluted than the water available from our faucets. Tap water in
the United States undergoes rigorous testing for contaminants—as often
as 480 times a month, far more than the once–a–week test for bottled

EWG researchers analyzed labels and websites from 188 bottled waters
to learn which bottlers voluntarily disclosed the same information as
required of community water suppliers. EWG found that many disclose
little to no information at all on water source and purity.

EWG compared 2008 and 2009 labels and websites to learn how many
brands are telling customers more this year than last. The answer was a
heartening 52 percent, though in nearly every case water bottlers
provided less information than municipal water utilities.

“Members of Congress need to understand that it has taken major
public outcry, followed by proactive legislation, to provoke much of
these changes,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director for Corporate
Accountability International, an organization that has compelled both
Pepsi and Nestlé to label the source of their bottled water. “Starting
today, Congress can work to guarantee the consumer’s right to know what
exactly they are getting in these disposable plastic water bottles.”

Few water sources are completely free of detectable contaminants.
The 40 percent of bottled water brands that rely on tap water are
drawing from supplies that collectively contain at least 260
pollutants, according to EWG's 2002-2005 survey of tap water testing conducted by community water supplies.

Last year EWG commissioned bottled water quality tests
that found that the water is not necessarily any safer than ordinary
tap water. The lab tests of 10 major brands identified 38 pollutants,
ranging from fertilizer residue to industrial solvents. Pollutants in 2
brands exceeded some state and industry health standards.

Legislation is underway to close loopholes in nationwide bottled
water standards. A California law effective January 1, 2009, requires
bottled water companies to post information on the water source,
treatment and testing on labels and websites. A bill introduced in the
U.S. Senate last year would require similar strictures at the federal


The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.

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