The truth about bottled water

Bottled water is supposed to be healthier than our tap water, but is it? Choosing the correct bottled water makes all the difference.

Most tap water in the U.S. is of very high quality. Water treatment plants across America do an incredible job of storing, cleaning and distributing water to our homes. But that doesn’t mean it is without problems. Due to concerns over pharmaceutical, pesticide or toxin contamination in municipal water, many people choose bottled water over tap water. But bottled water isn’t perfect.

According the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, “Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk.”

But what’s crucial to understand about this statement is that the EPA is referring to bottled water that comes from municipal sources; not all bottled water is created equal.

You see, there are two distinct kinds of bottled water: Bottled water that is repurposed municipal water and bottled water that comes from a natural spring. Bottled water coming from municipal sources is purchased from a city’s municipal supply, cleaned and bottled by manufacturers. This type of bottled water can certainly contain some contaminants, due to the fact that this tends to be “surface water.” In other words, municipal water can come from open aqueducts, reservoirs, water runoff from snow melt, or any water that is sourced from the surface of the ground.

Natural spring bottled water comes from a naturally occurring source, like a spring located underground. This is the kind of bottled water you want to look for because it tends to come from remote areas or protected land. It also usually contains natural and healthy trace minerals and elements like calcium and potassium. Natural spring bottled water isn’t necessarily 100 percent pure, but it is less likely to have been contaminated by anything man-made. However, water migrates, so if someone pollutes water upstream, residue from that contamination can travel downstream.

Many people incorrectly believe that bottled water is less regulated than tap water – but the truth is that they are regulated by different arms of the federal government. Tap water is regulated by the EPA. Therefore, their assertion about contaminants in bottled water relates to the approximately 45 percent of bottled waters on the market that are from municipal water sources. All bottled water, including natural spring bottled water, is considered a food product and is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

There is no record anywhere of anyone dying from bottled water – even in rare cases in which bottled water contains some form of contamination. Unfortunately, the same is not true with municipal water. There have been scores of instances, some from natural contaminations, some from man-made contaminations, where people have become sick and some people have died from contaminated tap water.

However, consumers should be aware that the chemicals used in plastics can indeed leach into bottled water over time. Bottled water should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from solvents (many people store bottled water in their garage near turpentine or gasoline and those vapors can affect bottled water). Avoid exposing bottled water to extreme heat fluctuations, such as by leaving it in your car on hot summer days.

Contrary to popular belief, the bottled water you buy in the store does not contain bisphenol A, (BPA) an industrial chemical. BPA is found in rigid plastics, such as 5-gallon bottles, not in single serve plastics. The EPA has also said that low levels of BPA are not harmful, but many people believe otherwise. Therefore if you buy bottled water, avoid buying it in any rigid (polycarbonate) plastic. Should you still have concerns about bottled water, it’s important to know that all bottled water has a “use by” date listed on each bottle.

Finally, if you drink a lot of bottled water, you have an obligation to recycle each and every bottle. The bottom line: Stay hydrated, whichever type of water you choose.

Michael Cervin is a water writer, senior editor at, and author of the forthcoming book, “Our World of Water: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Earth’s Most Critical Resource.” Learn more about Michael at