EWG Finds Most Bottled Water Brands Don't Tell Source

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.

Jane Houlihan, EWG senior vice president for Research, discussed the findings of the 18-month long study in testimony 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.

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.

"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."

EWG researchers analyzed labels and Web sites 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 Web sites 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.

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 two brands exceeded some state and industry health standards.

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

EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. www.ewg.org.

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