The One Reason Bottled Water Is More Dangerous Than Tap Water
Before you invest in more store-bought water, you'll want to read about this key difference.
As summer progresses and the temperature rises, it's more important than ever to stay hydrated throughout the day. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimate that men need around 3.7 liters of water each day, while women should be aiming for 2.7 liters. However, while experts agree that keeping your water supplies topped up is key, they also warn that the notion that the store-bought stuff is healthier or cleaner than tap water is misguided. To find out how bottled water is more dangerous than tap water, read on.
Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); bottled water isn't.
In an article for CBS News, Peter H. Gleick, MD, president emeritus and co-founder of the Pacific Institute and author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, points out that while tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which allows for less frequent quality testing. He points out that the FDA doesn't monitor certain contaminants that may be in packaged water, and doesn't oblige producers to provide quality reports. "Our standards for protecting both ought to be stricter," says Gleick. "But tap water is better regulated."
On top of that, tap water is routinely treated with fluoride to aid dental health in a way that bottled water isn't, giving the old-fashioned option another edge.
Bottled and tap water may come from the same sources.
While bottled water brands often use extremely creative packaging to conjure up images of natural purity, in many cases, it is essentially the same water as you'd get from your kitchen faucet, just not as strictly regulated. "Sometimes the water you can buy in a bottle is simply public tap water that has been enhanced in some way, such as changing the mineral content," explains the Minnesota Department of Health. The exception is anything claiming to be spring water—if it says this on the label, then the water must actually come from a spring.
There have been several serious public health incidents linked to bottled water.
Despite the perception that bottled water is cleaner and safer for you, there have been multiple recent health threats linked to bottled water. Earlier this year, an outbreak of acute non-viral hepatitis illnesses was traced to Real Water brand alkaline water, leading to its shutdown; Peñafiel spring water was withdrawn due to the presence of arsenic in 2020; and Sweet Springs Valley Water was contaminated with E. coli in 2018.
Drinking water from a plastic bottle itself also comes with its own risks. Especially in the summer, plastic bottles exposed to heat for prolonged periods of time may cause the water inside to become contaminated. A 2014 study found antimony and bisphenol A (BPA), both presumed to be carcinogens, leached into water after being exposed to a temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, there are some occasions when bottled water is best.
The Minnesota Department of Health notes that there are some specific cases where bottled water may serve you better. Any situation where you can't guarantee a safe drinking supply (for example, on a camping trip, or during a natural disaster) makes bottled water the best choice. Additionally, if tests have shown that your own water well has become contaminated and if authorities have notified you that contamination has occurred in your local public water supply, you should switch to bottled water.
"In these situations above, it is especially important to use bottled water for mixing infant formula or giving water to babies less than one year old," the Minnesota Department of Health advises. "Bottled water may also be the best choice if a person has a health condition requiring lower levels of some substance."