In order to find the answer to these questions, I headed to UCLA's Environmental Science and Engineering School and discovered Dr. I.H. (Mel) Suffet's 2001 Report Card about bottled water. According to this study, "more than 50% of Americans drink bottled water." So what is the difference between bottled and tap water? According to Dr. Suffet, the biggest difference between the two is the marketing.
According to both Dr. Suffet, and the Environmental Protection Agency's website on water, "Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water". In fact, both of my sources agree, most of the appeal of bottled water is aesthetic. Both taste and look are two of the biggest reasons why Americans buy bottled water instead of turning on their faucets. The EPA website also mentions that where the EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water systems, the Food and Drug Administration "sets bottled water standards based on the EPA's tap water standards." This means that the two are regulated by the same criterion.
So if the marketing is the biggest difference between the two, why do so many people believe bottled water is better? One of the issues Dr. Suffet's Report Card tackles is the idea of taste. Bottled water is primarily focused on a good taste to satisfy the buds of thirsty people. As Dr. Suffet writes, "The taste and odor concerns appear more important to consumer confidence in Southern California than meeting standards." Is there any added value in bottled water? Besides taste, convenience and look, the nutritional value is no better in most bottled waters than in that from your bathroom sink.
Interestingly enough, some states choose to adopt a set of "secondary standards" for their water. These are strictly aesthetic standards, not based on any kind of health benefits. Most people tend to object to the cloudy look of tap water, which is caused by the air bubbles forced into it from the tap. Also, the smell of chlorine is another deterrent causing people to turn to the Arrowhead dispenser instead of their kitchen sink. The EPA website notes that both of these unappealing characteristics of tap water will dissipate with a little time exposed to the air.
One exception to this rule of standards is people who have weakened immune systems, due to HIV/AIDS, or who are undergoing chemotherapy. Also, children tend to be sensitive to the impurities found in both tap water and some bottled waters. In these cases, one may turn to higher quality bottled waters, as recommended by their healthcare professionals.
Another option for more purified water, but which can also be deceiving, is the home purification systems. Tap water can be run through home filtration systems, such as Brita, in order to rid it of more of the impurities. However, the EPA strongly recommends researching home filtration methods thoroughly before relying on them for purification, as some systems focus only on taste instead of actually decontaminating tap or bottled water. For instance, where Brita stakes claims to truly filter water, as certified by the NSF International, the nation's leading independent environmental science certifying agency, Pur water purification bases most of its marketing on better taste, and only has one pitcher which matches all NSF certification requirements. This means if you are looking for more than improved taste in a home filtering system, you need to do the proper research to ensure you get the right product for you.
Something else to keep in mind before consuming bottled water is the addition of chemicals to the water from the actual bottling process. Through the process of bottling water, either by osmosis, or from collecting it from spring wells, the plastic of the bottle, according to Dr. Suffet, leaches organic chemicals into the drinking water.
So while Americans are spending millions of dollars a year on bottled water, for really no added nutritional value, Organic Authority wanted to point out an alternative to the common bottled water: Ethos. Unlike Dasani and Aquafina, the proceeds of Ethos do not go to a large corporation, but rather benefit thirsty children all over the word. They bottle natural spring water, sell it for $.99 a bottle, then use the profit to bring needed purified water to poorer parts of the world. If you are going to spend money on pre-bottled water, we would like to encourage you to make a universally sound purchase at the same time.
From the Organic Authority Files
In the end, I concluded that unless you're on a train and a small sign demands you not drink the water, most Americans are safe consuming the clear liquid in many shapes and forms. It also seems that the only advantage my desert model had in going for the Evian bottle was a paycheck. The marketing would be great, but the poor thing would have been much better off hydrating with the bucket of LA tap water.
Bottled Waters By Type:
Mineral Water: "Containing not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids… No minerals can be added to this product." (http://www.bottledwater.org)
Artesian Water: "Bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand) in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer." (http://www.bottledwater.org)
Spring Water: "Bottled water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring." (http://www.bottledwater.org)
- Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water
Purified Water: "Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes while meeting the definition of purified water in the United States Pharmacopoeia may be labeled as purified bottled water." (http://www.bottledwater.org)