Two new reports are calling for bottled water to be labeled with as much information as municipalities disclose about tap water. The findings of the reports were released in tandem with a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on regulating the bottled water industry.
An Environmental Working Group investigation, Is your bottled water worth it?, said that of 188 popular bottled water brands only 2 brands disclose the water’s source, how it has been purified and what chemical pollutant each bottle of water may contain.
“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,” Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Environmental Working Group 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.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also released a report that concluded that FDA consumer safety rules are less strict than the comparable EPA protections required for tap water.
The report, FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections For Tap Water, evaluated the extent to which FDA regulates the quality of bottled water, the extent to which federal and state authorities regulate accuracy of labels and claims regarding the purity, the source and the environmental impacts of bottled water.
Some key highlights from the GAO report were that although FDA’s quality standards are generally the same as the EPA’s, the FDA has failed to adopt the same standard for DEHP, a common plasticizer used in the manufacture of PVC plastics.
“Specifically, FDA deferred action on DEHP in a final rule published in 1996 and has yet to either adopt a standard or publish a reason for not doing so,” the report said.
The report said that FDA does not have the statutory authority to require bottlers to use certified laboratories for water quality tests or to report the results even if standards are violated.
The FDA and state requirements for bottled water labeling are the same as typical food label requirements, but the information provided to consumers is less than what the EPA requires from tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The GAO recommended that FDA issues a standard of quality for DEHP, or publish its reasons for not doing so and implement its findings regarding methods that are feasible for conveying information to consumers regarding the quality and safety of bottled water.
Joe Doss, CEO of the International Bottled Water Associaton, testified before the subcommittee.
“Bottled water is comprehensively and stringently regulated in the United States at both the federal and state levels, which helps ensure its safety and quality,” Doss said. “At the federal level, bottled water is regulated as a packaged food product by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It must meet FDA’s general food regulations as well as standards of identity, standards of quality, good manufacturing practices and labeling requirements specifically promulgated for bottled water.”
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