Bottling or not bottling … Is bottled water really better than tap water?
Once upon a time, most Americans got their water from the tap alone. Now, they often buy their water in a bottle. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), an industry trade group, at work, after training, or almost at any time, Americans drink bottled water in record numbers, a whopping 5 billion of gallons in 2001. That's about the same amount of water that falls from the American falls at Niagara Falls in two hours!
Explosive growth in the industry for more than a decade has put bottled water in almost every supermarket, convenience store and vending machine from the coast to the coast, where dozens of brands compete for consumer dollars. In four years, industry experts anticipate that bottled water will be the second pop beverage in the United States as the preferred beverage in the United States.
Water, of course, is essential for human health. Drinking enough water to replace what is lost through bodily functions is important. But surveys indicate that most of us may not be drinking enough. Is bottled water part of the answer? To decide, consumers should arm themselves with knowledge about what they are buying before taking the next bottle of Dasani, Evian or Perrieroff.
Bottled water may seem a relatively new idea: to be born during a greater awareness of the physical condition and the possible contamination of water during the last two or three decades. However, the water has been bottled and sold from its origin for thousands of years. In Europe, it was often thought that mineral water had healing and, at times, religious powers. The pioneers traveled west through the United States during the nineteenth century, considered as potable water (portable), a staple food that is purchased in anticipation of the long journey through the arid West.
Today, of course, there are dozens of brands of bottled water and many different types, including flavors or sodas, to choose from.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water products found in interstate commerce under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD & C Act).
Under the FD & C Act, manufacturers are responsible for producing safe, healthy and truly labeled food products, including bottled water products. It is a violation of the law to introduce into interstate or mislabeled products by the state that violate the various provisions of the FD & C Act.
The FDA has also established specific regulations for bottled water, including standard identity standards, which define different types of bottled water, and quality standards, which establish maximum levels of contaminants (chemical, physical, microbial and radiological) allowed in water. bottled up.
From a regulatory point of view, the FDA describes bottled water as water intended for human consumption and that is sealed in bottles or other containers without added ingredients, except that it may contain a safe and adequate antimicrobial agent. Fluoride can also be added within the limits set by the FDA.
Is it worth the extra expense of bottled water? One thing that consumers can depend on is that the FDA sets specific regulations for bottled water to ensure that the bottled water they buy is safe, according to Henry Kim, Ph.D., supervising chemist at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. of the FDA. , Office of Food and Plant and Dairy Beverages. Kim, whose office oversees the bottled water agency's regulatory program, says that major changes have taken place since 1974, when the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) granted for the first time the regulatory oversight of public drinking water (water from tap) to the US Environmental Protection Agency UU (EPA). Each time the EPA sets a standard for a chemical or microbial contaminant, the FDA adopts it for bottled water or states that the standard is not necessary for bottled water to protect public health.
"In general, over the years, the FDA has adopted EPA standards for tap water as standards for bottled water," says Kim. As a result, the standards for contaminants in tap water and bottled water are very similar.
However, in some cases, the standards for bottled water are different from those for tap water. Kim cites lead as an example. Because lead can seep from water pipes that travel from water services to household taps, the EPA sets an action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) in tap water. This means that when lead levels are above 15 ppb in the tap water that reaches the taps in the home, water companies must treat the water to reduce lead levels to less than 15 ppb. In bottled water, where lead pipes are not used, the lead limit is set at 5 ppb. According to the FDA survey information, bottlers can easily produce bottled water products with lead levels below 5 ppb. This action was consistent with the FDA's goal of reducing the exposure of consumers to lead in drinking water as much as possible.
Bottled water production must also follow the current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) regulations established and applied by the FDA. The water must be sampled, analyzed and checked as safe and hygienic. These regulations also require proper design of the plant and equipment, bottling procedures and record keeping.
The FDA also oversees inspections of bottling plants. Kim says: "Because the FDA's experience over the years has shown that bottled water does not pose a significant public health risk, we believe that bottled water is not a high-risk food." However, the FDA inspects bottled water plants in its general food safety program and also contracts with the states to conduct some inspections of bottled water plants. In addition, some states require bottled water companies to obtain an annual license.
IBWA members also agree to adhere to the Model Code of the Association, a set of standards stricter than federal regulations in some areas. The supply plants that adopt the Model Code of the IBWA accept an unannounced annual inspection by an independent firm.
The FDA also classifies some bottles of water according to their origin.
Well water artesian. Water from a well that hits an aquifer (layers of porous rock, sand and earth that contain water) that is under the pressure of surrounding upper layers of rock or clay. When used, the pressure in the aquifer, commonly called artesian pressure, pushes the water above the level of the aquifer, sometimes to the surface. Other means can be used to help bring water to the surface. According to the EPA, water from artesian aquifers is often purer because the confined layers of rock and clay prevent the movement of pollution. However, despite claims by some bottlers, there is no guarantee that artesian waters are cleaner than the groundwater of an unconfined aquifer, according to the EPA. Mineral water. Water from an underground source that contains at least 250 parts per million dissolved solids. The minerals and trace elements must come from the source of the groundwater. They can not be added later. Mountain spring water. Derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. The spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a well that hits the underground formation that feeds the spring. If an external force is used to collect the water through a well, the water must have the same composition and quality as the water that flows naturally to the surface. Well water The water from a hole drilled or drilled in the ground, which is nourished by an aquifer. Bottled water can be used as an ingredient in beverages, such as diluted juices or bottled flavored waters. However, beverages labeled as "sparkling water", "mineral water", "soda water", "tonic water" or "club soda" are not included as bottled water under FDA regulations, because These drinks have historically been considered soft drinks.
Some of the bottled water also comes from municipal sources, in other words, map. Municipal water is usually treated before being bottled.
Examples of water treatments include:
Distillation. In this process, water becomes steam. As the minerals are too heavy to vaporize, they are left behind and the vapors condense in water again. Inverse osmosis. Water is forced through the membranes to remove the minerals in the water. Absolute filtration of 1 micron. Water flows through filters that remove particles larger than one micron in size, such as Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite. Ozonation Bottlers of all types of water often use ozone gas, an antimicrobial agent, to disinfect water instead of chlorine, since chlorine can leave the taste and residual smell in the water. Bottled water that has been treated by distillation, reverse osmosis or other suitable process and that meets the definition of "purified water" in the United States. The pharmacopoeia can be labeled as "purified water".
Bottled vs. Tap
If bottled water is better than tap water and justifies its expense, it is still the subject of debate. Stephen Kay, vice president of the IBWA, says that the member bottlers are selling the quality, consistency and safety that bottled water promises and that provide a service to those whose municipal systems do not provide good quality drinking water.
"Bottled water is produced and regulated exclusively for human consumption," says Kay. "Some people in their municipal markets have the luxury of having good water. Others do not. "
Thornley, of the Minnesota Department of Health, agrees that consumers can depend on the safety and quality of bottled water. But he says that consumers should feel the same about the quality of their tap water. Tap water can sometimes be seen or have a different flavor, he says, but that does not mean it's not safe. In fact, the most dangerous contaminants are those that consumers can not see, smell or taste, he says. But consumers do not have to worry about their presence, he adds. Municipal water systems that serve 25 or more people are subject to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As such, water is tested constantly and thoroughly to detect harmful substances, he says. If there is a problem, consumers will be warned through the media or other points of sale.
"Instead of being told otherwise, consumers should feel confident about the safety of their water," says Thornley.
Dr. Robert Ophaug, professor of oral health at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, points out that tap water has another advantage that many people do not think about: it usually contains fluoride. Many communities have opted to add fluoride to drinking water to promote strong teeth and prevent tooth decay in residents, although some groups continue to oppose this practice and believe it is detrimental to health.
Ophaug says that bottled water often has no added fluoride. Or, if it has been purified by reverse osmosis or distillation, the fluoride may have been removed. People who drink mainly bottled water, especially those who have children, should be aware of this, he says. You may need to use fluoride supplements that are available with a prescription from dentists or doctors. These supplements are generally recommended for children from 7 to 16 years old. Fluoride supplements cost around $ 15 for a three-month supply.
"At least, tell the dentist or the children's doctor that you are drinking bottled water," says Ophaug.
The IBWA says that there are more than 20 brands of bottled water with added fluoride available to consumers today. When fluoride is added to bottled water, the FDA requires that the term "fluorinated", "fluoride-containing" or "with added fluoride" be used on the label. Consumers interested in the amount of bottled water containing fluoride can generally discover direct contact with individual companies directly.
Filter or not filter?
Consumers can buy purified water. They also have the option of doing it at home.
Many companies sell filtration systems. Some adhere to the tap and filter the water when it enters the tap. Others are containers that filter the water in them. Among the most well-known manufacturers are PUR and Brita.
Purified water with these products generally costs less than buying bottled water. According to Brita, its high-end faucet filter system provides water for 18 cents per gallon, a considerable saving of $ 1 or more usually a water bottle of 8 to 12 ounces.
John B. Ferguson, communications manager / executive editor of the Association for Water Quality, says consumers can feel confident about the quality of water provided by brand-name home filtration systems.
Stew Thornley, of the Minnesota Department of Health, agrees that home filtration systems can improve the taste or appearance of tap water at minimal cost. However, Thornley points out that consumers should be careful when maintaining these filters. Normally, specific instructions are included with the purchase of the product. Without proper maintenance, he says, bacteria or other contaminants may accumulate in the products.
The above information has been provided with the permission of the FDA Online Consumer Magazine from July to August 2002.
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