The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

EWG Public Affairs, (202) 667-6982

FDA Should Adopt EPA Tap Water Health Goals for Bottled Water

FDA plan won’t improve testing for common bacteria


Bottled water costs hundreds of times more than tap water, but when it
comes to consumer protections, it's no better. FDA has proposed to
improve testing bottled water for bacteria. But even these new rules
would leave the public in the dark, because unlike tap water, for which
all test results are made public, manufacturers conceal bottled water
test results from the public.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) Senior Scientist Dr. Olga Naidenko
has advised the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that its
Sept. 17 proposal to require more testing of bottled water for coliform
bacteria "is not sufficient to guarantee bottled water quality."

Naidenko, who co-authored EWG's Bottled Water Quality Report 27243>
, published Oct. 15, said FDA's proposed regulation would offer
consumers limited improvements over the current situation, in which
bottled water is rarely tested for purity.

The EWG study found that ten popular bottled water brands contained 38
chemical pollutants and, in four cases, bacteria, some with contaminant
levels no better than tap water.

"For all the hoopla and high prices, bottled water should meet a far higher standard of purity than tap water," said Naidenko.

Scores of contaminants are allowed in tap water, not because they are
safe, but because the cost of removing them is more than most municipal
water treatment systems can afford.

The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has identified many of these contaminants as serious
health risks and has set formal tap water health goals at zero
contamination. EPA's legally enforceable standards for municipal water
facilities are less protective than its health goals because the
federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to balance health risks
against cost and technological feasibility.

But consumers expect that when they pay premium prices for bottled
water, they are buying a product that has been meticulously purified
with state-of-the-art technology.

"Bottled water can easily be filtered to meet these EPA health goals,
but the industry and FDA have taken the low road, opting for the
maximum allowable amount of contamination in their products," Naidenko

The FDA proposal, published in the Federal Register DOCKETS/98fr/E8-21619.htm>
on Sept. 17, contains a major loophole that would benefit the bottled
water industry: bottlers would not be obligated to make public their
test results, as EPA requires of municipal water treatment systems.

"Considering that bottled water is hundreds or even thousands of times
more expensive than municipal water, consumers deserve much greater
health protection from toxic contaminants in bottled water," Naidenko

"Water Americans drink, whether from a bottle or a faucet, should be
rigorously tested to ensure both sources are as free from hazardous
chemicals and bacteria as possible," said EWG Senior Scientist Renee
Sharp, a co-author of EWG's Bottled Water Report.

To make bottled water truly safe, EWG urged FDA to strengthen the proposed regulation on three counts:

  • FDA
    should adopt EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) as
    enforceable standards for chemical and microbiological contaminants in
    bottled water.
  • FDA should require bottled water companies to disclose fully all test results to the public.
  • FDA should require companies to disclose source and treatment information on bottled water labels.

EWG's comments can be seen at

The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.

(202) 667-6982