Bottled water regulation questioned in Congress

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7/14/2009-According to The New York Times, at a hearing on July 8, members of Congress were briefed on two new studies that question whether bottled water is safer than tap water. In 2008, Americans drank 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water, double the amount of a decade ago, with more than half saying they drink it because it is safer and healthier than tap water.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water, which is considered a food. Municipal water systems have been required to distribute an annual report to consumers since 1999, disclosing the name of their water source and any contaminants found in testing, as well as the potential health effects of those contaminants. In addition, suppliers of tap water are required to notify customers within 24 hrs about contaminants that exceed federal levels; this does not apply to bottled water. Nor must bottled water companies test water with certified laboratories, a requirement for tap water suppliers. Two new reports—one from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a second from the Environmental Working Group (EWG)—question whether the regulation of bottled water is sufficient.

The GAO reviewed FDA data, reports, and requirements for bottled water; conducted a state survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia; reviewed bottled water labels; and interviewed FDA officials and key experts. Based on its research, the GAO recommends that at minimum the FDA should require “that companies provide on the label contact information directing customers on how to obtain comprehensive information.”

The EWG recommends that bottling companies provide detailed information about the source and treatment of their water, just as providers of tap water do. The EWG’s investigation of 188 popular bottled water brands found that only 2 disclosed the water’s source, how the water has been purified, and what chemical pollutants each bottle of water may contain.

In a statement prepared for the hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner for the FDA, said the agency believed that the Food Safety Enhancement Act in development by the committee would take “some positive steps in providing additional authority that will help to fill some of the gaps identified by the GAO.” In the meantime, the agency says consumers should not be concerned that their bottled water is unsafe.

The New York Times article

GAO report

EWG report



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