Published on
by
the San Francisco Chronicle

Bottled Water Labels Lack Key Data, Group Says

by
Kelly Zito

That bottled water you're drinking could have come from a faucet the next town over or from a company with a history of bacterial contamination.

But you wouldn't know that from the label, according to an environmental group that examined 173 different brands of bottled water on the market.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., advocacy outfit, released its "Bottled Water Scorecard," a rundown of the data displayed - or not - on the containers of one of the nation's most popular retail beverages.

The group found that only three water bottles had three key pieces of data - the water's source, how it's purified and the results of any tests for contaminants. The brands were: Gerber Pure Purified Water, Nestle Pure Life Purified Water and Penta Ultra Purified Water.

The 170 others lacked at least one of the three pieces of information; but many had none. In contrast, municipal water purveyors must provide data on where their supplies originate, treatment methods and any violations of drinking water standards under federal law.

"A lot of people drink bottled water because they don't trust their tap water," said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. "But municipal utilities are required to be transparent. With bottled water you're completely in the dark."

The bottled water industry, however, points out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't require such information.

"We comply with the letter of federal law," said Tom Lauria, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association. The Environmental Working Group "is simply overlooking all the information our companies put on sourcing and tests on their websites."

Researchers with the advocacy group hope regulators take steps outlined by one arm of the federal government and put in place separately in California.

Their call to action has support from the federal government and California. But it is unclear whether that has had much impact.

In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended the Food and Drug Administration require bottled water companies to disclose information on sourcing, results of contamination tests and other data to consumers. So far, the agency hasn't taken any action to expand its authority.

On Jan. 1, 2009, a California law went into effect requiring bottled water companies to list the water's source and offer a water-quality report through a phone number or website. The Environmental Working Group found, however, that only 24 percent of the bottled water labels they examined from California complied with the law.

 

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