[MOL] To All Molers for Informational Purpose [00033] Medicine On Line


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[MOL] To All Molers for Informational Purpose



Bottled water not always cleaner than tap water

By Penny Stern, MD

NEW YORK, Mar 30 (Reuters Health) -- Some brands of bottled water sold in the US may contain bacteria or chemicals, according to a report released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York-based environmental advocacy group.

Bottled water "should not automatically be assumed to be purer or safer than most tap water," according to the organization.

The NRDC attached the report to their "Citizen Petition to the US Food and Drug Administration for Improvements in FDA's Bottled Water Program."

The report's authors note that "some bottled water comes from sources that are vastly different from what the labels might lead consumers to believe." One brand labeled "spring water" actually came from a well in an industrial facility's parking lot. And according to government and industry estimates, between 25-40% of bottled water sold in the US is taken from public water systems -- "tap water, essentially," the NRDC notes.

Eric Olson, who works on water safety issues for the NRDC and is principle author of the report, told Reuters Health, "We concluded that although a lot of consumers assumed that bottled water was... cleaner, safer, and better regulated than tap water, that is, in fact, not the case."

"While most bottled water (we tested) was of fairly high quality, about one third of brands tested violated either strict enforceable state standards or microbial impurity guidelines," Olson explained.

After testing more than 100 brands of bottled water, the NRDC found that "some bottled water contained bacterial contaminants, and several brands of bottled water contain synthetic organic chemicals... or inorganic contaminants... in at least some bottles."

In the report, the NRDC described the "serious deficiencies" of regulations designed to protect those who consume bottled water. "FDA's rules... exempt many forms of what most of us would consider 'bottled water' from all of its specific water-testing and contamination standards," the report's authors write. The FDA does not consider products labeled "water," "carbonated water," "seltzer water," "sparkling water," or "soda water," to be "bottled water," nor do most states.

The NRDC cites an example of the "gaping hole" to be found in the current regulatory scheme. "A big city has to test its tap water 100 times or more a month for coliform bacteria... yet bottled water (even at an enormous bottling plant) must be tested for coliform bacteria only once a week under FDA rules."

The report goes on to explain that high bacteria counts make municipal tap water supplies liable to violations but that "FDA bowed to bottled water industry arguments and decided to apply no standards for bacteria... commonly found in bottled water."

Regarding other contaminants, "FDA currently has no enforceable standard or treatment requirement for... acrylamide, asbestos, and epichlorohydrin," according to the NRDC, while tap water content of these substances is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Olson said that the NRDC surveyed all 50 states and found that "the vast majority have one person or less working on bottled water concerns." The FDA has one full-time equivalent worker doing the same. When asked how the FDA explained the relative lack of manpower dedicated to the issue, Olson said that FDA officials say they have higher priorities.

The NRDC acknowledges that the bottled water industry, led by the International Bottled Water Association, "has sometimes been a progressive force in seeking to improve certain FDA controls." But the Association has also "sometimes fought vigorously against tough FDA rules, such as possible controls on Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria... and right-to-know requirements for bottled water," according to the report.

In a statement, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) responds "that the NRDC is trying to scare consumers." The group contends that bottled water is "one of the most highly regulated products under FDA regulatory authority."

"For the past 37 years... there have been no confirmed reports in the US of illness or diseases linked to bottled water," the IBWA points out. Their statement goes on to explain that the Environment Protection Agency, which regulates tap water, "lacks a system to remove products from the market and relies on the less effective consumer notification system."

According to the IBWA, consumers can obtain "complete testing information" from "virtually all IBWA members" by calling 1-800-WATER-11. The IBWA website (www.bottledwater.org) can also be consulted to ascertain whether a particular brand subscribes to the IBWA "Model Code." Some 85% of bottled water manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers belong to the trade association.

According to Eric Olson, the NRDC "is not trying to scare consumers. Our bottom line message is that we'd like to see tap water fixed so people don't have to feel they are compelled to turn to bottled water to protect the health of their families."

Olson told Reuters Health that the NRDC would like to see three major changes made. These are "requiring disclosure on bottled water labels indicating all contaminants, substantially strengthening bottled water standards, and starting a meaningful regulatory system that could be funded by a penny fee charged to bottlers for every bottle they produce."