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Is Bottled Water Safer than Tap Water?

“You get what you pay for” is a useful rule of thumb when it comes to the  purchases you make. High-end headphones are going to sound better than a pair you buy at the pharmacy for $10. An expensive laptop bag should survive the rigors of travel better than a cheap giveaway.

And a $2.50 bottle of water should have fewer impurities than the cheap water that comes out of your tap, right?

Unfortunately, no.

Comparing bottled water and tap water is a little like comparing the hot dog you purchase at the movie theater with the one you make yourself at home. The theater isn’t charging you six dollars for the hot dog because it tastes better or is of higher quality than the one you can make yourself. Rather, it’s the convenience and context that makes the price they are able to charge so much higher than what the item is really worth.

The price differential between bottled and tap water can be extreme, with people spending at least 240 times more per gallon (and in some cases, over 10,000 times) for bottled water than tap water. This is even more insidious when you consider that (by one estimate) 64% of retail bottled water is nothing more than bottled tap water, sometimes with additional treatment, but often not.

If convenience alone is what’s most important, perhaps you’re happy to pay dollars for something that’s worth mere cents. After all, a crisp, cold drink of water on a hot day has a lot of value.

However, the large increase in the purchase of bottled water over the past few years is a direct result of slick and relentless marketing, the purpose of which has been to convince us that bottled water’s purity and safety is inherently superior to tap water, either because of its pristine source (some untouched underground spring deep in the forest), or the advanced, multi-step treatment it must have been through.

Does this mean that bottled water is no better than the water coming out of our taps? Probably, but it’s not that simple.

Public water systems (tap water) are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies, which sets limits for certain contaminants, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA). In contrast, bottled water products, considered as beverages, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, the framework for ensuring quality and safety in these two sources of drinking water varies significantly.

As it happens, there are cases in which the allowable contaminant level in bottled water is higher than public water systems (it varies by substance). On top of this, when it comes to both tap water AND bottled water, what regulations require is far from comprehensive when it comes to the large variety of substances and contaminants that are able to be detected.
Even with regulations in place (as incomplete as they are), there are times when both bottled water and public water systems can represent a health risk.

A recent report published by Consumer Reports found several brands of bottled water to have arsenic levels significantly higher than the 10 parts per billion level mandated by the FDA (long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.) Meanwhile, a 2016 CNN report found that more than 5,000 U.S. water systems serving roughly 18 million people violated EPA rules for lead in water.

The bottom line is that it’s time to call out the false notion that bottled water is a safer, cleaner or purer source of drinking water than the average public water system, and recognize that the only way to be sure of what you’re drinking (not to mention using for cooking, cleaning and bathing) is to test and manage the water coming into your own home.

At Hague Quality Water of Maryland, we can help you assess your water quality, repair or replace well parts and plumbing fixtures, install the best water treatment solutions, and provide ongoing maintenance for your home’s entire water supply system. We are dedicated to providing families and businesses not only safe water, but also peace of mind.