Consumers can remain confident about the safety and reliability of bottled water products

International Bottled Water Association | NEWS RELEASE | June 24, 2015

Consumers can remain confident about the safety and reliability of bottled water products

Alexandria, VA – “The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is aware that some long-time bottled water critics  are  taking  advantage of the recent voluntary product recall by one  bottled water company  in Pennsylvania by attempting to scare and confuse consumers.

The fact is, consumers can remain confident about the safety and reliability of their bottled water.

Laboratory tests have confirmed there was no contamination of any kind detected in the finished bottled water products or in the spring water that was delivered to the bottling facility. Even so, out of an abundance of caution, the facility immediately shut down operations, disinfected bottling lines, and initiated a voluntary recall. CLICK HERE to read the company press statement on this issue.

One group that is openly opposed to the very existence of bottled water chose this opportunity to issue a press release that not only makes numerous false and misleading claims about bottled water, but also rehashes unproven assertions and cites a previously discredited report. Provided below are the facts about the safety and regulation of bottled water.

Bottled Water is Comprehensively Regulated

Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a packaged food product and it provides a consistently safe and reliable source of drinking water. By federal law, the FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least as protective of the public health as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for tap water.

All bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.

Further, bottled water is one of the few food products that FDA also subjects to extra two sets of requirements in addition to the general food Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) — one prescribing bottled water Good Manufacturing Practices, and the other imposing specific bottled water standards of identity and quality.  FDA’s GMPs for bottled water apply to every aspect of production, from source protection, all the way through processing, to finished water sampling for purity prior to final bottling.  FDA has established standards for more than 90 substances pursuant to the Standard of Quality (SOQ) for bottled water.  Most FDA bottled water quality standards are the same as EPA’s maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for public water systems.  The few differences are usually the result of the substance not being found in bottled water or the substance is regulated under FDA food additives program.

Citing a Discredited Study

The assertion that bottled water is ‘dangerous’ is patently untrue, and is a clear indication that the organization making this claim places anti-bottled water hype over science.

A 2008 Environmental Working Group (EWG) study being cited has been discredited as biased and misleading. The results of EWG study were based on the faulty premise that if any substance is present in a bottled water product — even if it doesn’t exceed the established regulatory limit or no standard has been set — then it is a health concern. The report did not show any correlation between the levels of substances found in the bottled water brands tested and any potential adverse health effects. Moreover, the EWG report provides results from a market basket testing program that the EWG conducted on 10 brands of bottled water in nine states and the District of Columbia.  That is certainly not a representative sample of bottled water products — which the EWG report acknowledged.

Regarding the quality and safety of tap water, as noted in the 2013 Drinking Water Research Foundation (DWRF) report, ‘Microbial Health Risks of Regulated Drinking Waters in the United States,’ researchers estimate that more than 500 boil alerts occurred in the United States in 2010.  In addition, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that waterborne diseases, such as Cryptosporidiosis and Giardiasis, cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $539 million a year in hospital expenses.

In 2006, EPA researchers reported an estimated 16.4 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness per year are caused by tap water. Subsequent research has estimated that number of illnesses to be closer to 19.5 million cases per year, resulting in as many as 1,000 deaths annually.

In contrast, a survey of FDA and state bottled water regulatory authorities, dated June, 2009 and conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found there were zero outbreaks of foodborne illness from bottled water over a 5-year period. Moreover, in testimony before a July 9, 2009 Congressional hearing, an FDA official stated that the agency was aware of no major outbreaks of illness or serious safety concerns associated with bottled water in the past decade.

Bottled Water Industry Supports Public Water Systems

Bottled water critics also engage in the practice of trying to pit bottled water against tap water. However, to claim that the availability of bottled water in the marketplace somehow affects the infrastructure, funding, development, and maintenance of municipal water systems makes no sense and is completely unfounded.

The bottled water industry supports a strong public water system, which is important for providing citizens with clean and safe drinking water.  In fact, many bottled water companies use public water sources for their purified bottled water products. Once the water enters the bottled water plant, multi-barrier measures described previously are employed to ensure that it meets FDA standards for purified water. The finished water product is then placed in a bottle under sanitary conditions and sold to the consumer.

The 2011 DWRF report ‘Bottled Water and Tap Water: Just the Facts’ provides a detailed comparison of quality and monitoring regulations for tap water and bottled water.

IBWA also supported President Obama signing into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. This important law supports a strong American public water infrastructure and creates the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA). This program will provide low-interest federal loans to communities, which will reduce the cost of financing large water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

A Strong Environmental Steward

The bottled water industry is not a significant contributor to California’s ongoing drought or water scarcity issues in other parts of the country.

Bottled water companies use a very small amount of water when measured against almost any other industry, are dedicated to responsibly protecting and preserving our vital water resources, and helping people live healthier lives. Sustainable water sources are the single most important aspect of our business. Water resource management, therefore, is a priority for the bottled water industry. Even with continuing growth and increased consumption, bottled water still has the smallest water and energy use footprint of any packaged beverage. The results of a 2014 IBWA benchmarking study show that the amount of water used to produce bottled water products in North America is less than all other types of packaged beverages. On average, only 1.32 liters of water (including the liter of water consumed) is used to produce one liter of finished bottled water.

When it comes to overall water use, the bottled water industry continues to be a small and efficient water user. Bottled water uses only 0.01 percent of all water used in the U.S. In California, the bottled water industry accounts for only 0.02 percent of all water used. To put that in context, Los Angeles uses in three weeks what the bottled water industry in California uses in one year.  And, most of the bottled water from California sources is sold in California.”

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NOTE: Photos/head shots available upon request

Media Contact:
Jill Culora

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.  

In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.  

IBWA is proud to be a partner with Keep America Beautiful and a supporter of Drink Up, an initiative of former First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which encourages Americans to drink more water more often – whether from the tap, a filter, or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.