Bottled water producers under scrutiny as regulatory gaps revealed

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bottled water Drinking water

Neither the public nor federal regulators in the United States know enough about where bottled water comes from or how it is made safe, the chairman of a congressional oversight committee has said.

Speaking at a congessional hearing this week, Democrat representative Bart Stupak said: "The majority of consumers purchase bottled water because of perceived health and safety benefits, but they actually know very little about the quality of the water they are buying.”

Key oversight differences

His statement came in the wake of the Energy and Commerce Committee meeting at which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) submitted a report stating bottled water manufacturers are not required to disclose as much information as municipal water utilities because of “key differences”​ in federal oversight authority.

“Of particular note, FDA does not have the specific statutory authority to require bottlers to use certified laboratories for water quality tests or to report test results, even if violations of the standards are found,”​ said the GAO.

The congressional watchdog also found state requirements to safeguard bottled water often exceed the FDA's, but still are often less comprehensive than state requirements to safeguard tap water. Bottled water companies are obliged to provide less information on their labels than the EPA requires of public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Consumers need more information

Furthermore, bottled water producers are not obliged to tell consumers the source of their water, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contain, added the body. The GAO urged the FDA to look for ways of giving the public this kind of data, saying: "Our work suggests that consumers may benefit from such additional information."

FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua M Sharfstein admitted that while the agency regulates bottled water as a food, it didn’t know which firms among registered companies made bottled water. But he said the agency had been tightening rules on bottled water since last year and producers now had to notify the FDA of any serious health threat as well as eliminate E. coli in their outputs.

The oversight committee also revealed it had sent letters to 13 bottled water companies – including Coca-Cola, Nestle, Dr Pepper Snapple and PepsiCo – asking for more information about the source of their water and their testing procedures.

Nestle Water’s Jane Lazgin said the company did supply information on where its water came from. Spokespeople from PepsiCo and Coca-Cola also stated their companies already stated the source of their product as purified municipal water, and that both undergo strict safety tests.

International Bottled Water Association president Joseph K. Doss said bottled water was “safe, convenient, healthful (and) regulated”.

He added: “Bottled water is frequently tested throughout its production Consumers interested in what’s in the bottle can get information directly from the company.”

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