Bottled Water Facts

Pure Drink or Pure Hype?

Some Bottled Water Labels Remain Misleading to Consumers

The Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found in a 1992 study that deceptive bottled water labeling was a widespread practice, with state authorities exasperated about FDA inaction in the face of frequent statements and vignettes indicating or implying that the bottled water was far purer than tap water or came from specific sources or had purity levels that may not have been justified.

Many of these practices continue. For example, FDA rules allow bottlers to call their product “spring water” — which seems to carry cachet with consumers as being especially natural and pure — even though it may be brought to the surface using a pumped well, and even though it may be treated with chemicals. FDA merely requires that the geologic formation that is tapped by the well must come to the surface somewhere, sometimes, to allow the water pumped to the surface in a well to be called spring water. Among the more interesting labels we have run across:

  • “Spring water” (with mountains and a lake on the label) actually from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site, ruled not misleading. A well located in the middle of an industrial warehouse facility and next to a state-designated industrial waste site in Millis, Massachusetts, produced this water, contaminated with industrial solvents including trichloroethylene at levels above EPA and FDA standards. The label gracing at least one of the many brands that used this water depicted a beautiful mountain in a reflection off a lake and was called “spring water.” In response to a request from the state of Massachusetts, FDA opined that this label was acceptable so long as the water does come to the surface sometimes (it sometimes does in an unpaved area near the parking lot), and as long as “there is no claim to the effect that the location pictured in the vignette is the actual spring, we would not consider the label vignette to be in violation of our requirements.” Apparently, after public disclosure of the true source of the water and contamination problems, this well is no longer being used for bottled water.
  • “Alasika™ – Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water: Pure Glacier Water From The Last Unpolluted Frontier, Bacteria Free” apparently from a public water supply. This water actually came from “Public Water System #111241” (a public water system in Juneau, Alaska), according to documents in Washington State files. The bottler evidently was told that when it reordered its labels, it had to state that the water is “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” in keeping with FDA rules; the phrase “pure glacier water” was, per documents in state files, “considered false and misleading.” The bottler was required to drop the “bacteria free” claim, as this was “considered synonymous with sterile and false.” This water no longer claims to be “glacier water” or “bacteria free.” However, NRDC has found several other brands sold as “glacier” water even though they apparently come from groundwater nowhere near any current glacier.
  • Vals Water “Known to Generations in France for its Purity and Agreeable Contribution to Health…Reputed to Help Restore Energy, Vitality, and Combat Fatigue.” While the IBWA voluntary code prohibits health claims, some bottlers still make such claims.

Bottled Water : Pure Drink or Pure Hype?. By Erik D. Olson. April 1999. Read Full Article

Water Bottle Cost of Impact

Cost of impact for a family of four

Water TypeProductAverage Size / Retail PriceWater Price Per GallonAnnual Water Cost15 Year Total Cost
Dasani 24 / 16.9 fl oz $5.99 $1.89 $622.96* $9,344.40
Aquafina 24 / 16.9 fl oz $4.99 $1.89 $518.96* $7,784.40
Fiji 24 / 16.9 fl oz $6.99 $8.82 $2,907.84** $43,617,60
Evian 24 / 16.9 fl oz $5.99 $7.49 $2491.84** $37,377,60


Brands depicted are registered trademarks and are used for comparison purposes only.

* Based on a family of four consuming two 24 pack per week X 52 weeks – For drinking water only. Cost would be greater if water is used in preparing beverages, coffee, tea and cooking.

** Based on a family of four consuming eight 6 pack per week X 52 weeks – For drinking water only. Cost would be greater if water is used in preparing beverages, coffee, tea and cooking.

What’s In Your Bottled Water – Besides Water?

Pure, clean water.

That’s what the ads say. But what does the lab say?

When you shell out for bottled water, which costs up to 1,900 times more than tap water, you have a right to know what exactly is inside that pricey plastic bottle.

Most bottled makers don’t agree. They keep secret some or all the answers to these elementary questions:

  • Where does the water come from?
  • Is it purified? How?
  • Have tests found any contaminants?

Among the ten best-selling brands, nine — Pepsi’s Aquafina, Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Crystal Geyser and six of seven Nestlé brands — don’t answer at least one of those questions.

Only one — Nestlé’s Pure Life Purified Water — discloses its specific geographic water source and treatment method on the label and offers an 800-number, website or mailing address where consumers can request a water quality test report.

The industry’s refusal to tell consumers everything they deserve to know about their bottled water is surprising.

Since July 2009, when Environmental Working Group released its groundbreaking Bottled Water Scorecard, documenting the industry’s failure to disclose contaminants and other crucial facts about their products, bottled water producers have been taking withering fire from consumer and environmental groups.

A new EWG survey of 173 unique bottled water products finds a few improvements – but still too many secrets and too much advertising hype. Overall, 18 percent of bottled waters fail to list the location of their source, and 32 percent disclose nothing about the treatment or purity of the water. Much of the marketing nonsense that drew ridicule last year can still be found on a number of labels.

EWG recommends that you drink filtered tap water. You’ll save money, drink water that’s purer than tap water and help solve the global glut of plastic bottles.

We support stronger federal standards to enforce the consumer’s right to know all about bottled water.

Until the federal Food and Drug Administration cracks down on water bottlers, use EWG’s Bottled Water Scorecard to find brands that disclose the water’s source location, treatment and quality and that use advanced treatment methods to remove a broad range of pollutants.

The bottled water industry routinely fails to provide information to consumers about the water’s specific geographic source, purification methods and the results of purity testing, a new EWG investigation shows.

Overall, more than half of the 173 bottled water brands surveyed flunked EWG’s transparency test.

Many brands fill their labels with vague claims of a pristine source or perfect purity — but no real facts. If people are willing to pay up 1,900 times the cost of tap water in order to buy water in a plastic bottle, they deserve better than that

EWG’s last label survey (2009) found that only two of 188 bottled water brands provided the three most basic facts about their water source name and location, treatment and purity. Since then, the Government Accountability Office has taken the industry and the federal Food and Drug Administration to task for lax inspection and disclosure practices. During a heavily publicized Congressional hearing on the GAO and EWG reports, House subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., declared, “Just because it comes in a bottle, we assume it’s healthier, but it’s not the case.”

  • Eleven companies disclosed less in 2010 than in 2009. Crystal Geyser, Sam’s Choice and nine other companies or brands disclosed even less information in 2010 than in 2009 for one or more bottled waters they sell.
  • Twenty-nine brands have ignored California’s new disclosure law. More than a quarter of the water bottles purchased in California did not list certain consumer information on the label or failed to provide a water quality report when contacted by EWG, as is required under state law. These brands include Fiji Natural Artesian Water and Green Planet Pure Handcrafted Water.
  • Eight of the 10 top-selling domestic brands earned a D or F for transparency. Another earned an unimpressive C. These nine brands don’t label the specific location of their water source and treatment method or provide contact information for consumers to get information on water purity. They include Pepsi’s Aquafina brand, Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Crystal Geyser and six of seven brands produced by Nestlé Waters NA. Of the 10 top domestic brands, only Nestlé’s Pure Life Purified Water brand lists a specific water source and treatment method on the label and provides a water quality testing report upon request

Three basic facts – source, treatment, purity – remain hidden EWG supports efforts by states such as California, Massachusetts and New Mexico to supplement federal law when it comes to requiring companies to disclose more consumer information about their bottled water products. The fact is, however, that secrecy remains common and is perfectly legal in many states. Of the bottled water labels surveyed by EWG:

  • 18 percent did not list the water’s geographic source on the label or website. EWG’s 2010 survey found that many companies choose not to disclose the location of their water source. Of 173 brands surveyed, 32 (18 percent), including Publix, Kroger and Harris Teeter store brands, do not provide this information on either their label or their website.
    Of brands included in both EWG’s 2009 and 2010 surveys, 18 did not label their water source location in either 2009 or 2010. They include Dasani Purified Water, Glaceau’s Smartwater, Kroger Purified Drinking Water and 15 others.
  • 32 percent provide no information on water treatment. Producers of 55 brands (32 percent), including Giant’s Acadia Natural Spring Water and CVS’ Gold Emblem Natural Spring Water, gave consumers no way to learn the purity of their water. These companies fail to disclose any information about their treatment methods or do not post a water quality report online.
    Of brands surveyed by EWG in both 2009 and 2010, 30 failed to provide this information both years. They included Fiji, Evian, Trader Joe’s and Nestlé Waters. Their customers may be swallowing municipal water bottled straight from the tap – or pumped from a well to a truck to a bottle – and not purified at all.
  • 13 percent provide “water quality” reports lacking actual test data. Twenty-two bottled waters (13 percent) publish water quality reports that contain no testing results, including Safeway’s Refreshe and Walmart’s Great Value brands, among many others.

Major brands obscure basic data about their products


Pepsi’s Aquafina PurAified Drinking Wate. The label says the water “originates from public water sources” but fails to name them. The water is treated with a process called “HydRO-7™” that is not explained on the label. Only three of the 10 Aquafina labels assessed list a phone number for consumers seeking more information on water quality. Even with the phone number, obtaining a water quality report may not be possible; a company representative told EWG that water quality testing information was “proprietary.”


Nestlé’s Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water lists a number of California springs as possible sources for the products EWG assessed. The labels do not include any information on how the water is treated but do list a phone number and website for consumers seeking water quality information.


CG Roxane’s Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water lists a number of “CG Roxane Source[s]” for the water EWG obtained but offered no specific names of springs. The labels provide no information on treatment, and a third of them do not direct consumers how to get more information on water quality.


Coca-Cola’s Dasani Purified Water does not name its source’s geographic site on the label, but notes that the water is treated by reverse osmosis. Six of the seven labels surveyed direct consumers to additional water quality information.


Nestlé’s Deer Park Natural Spring Water lists a number of springs in Pennsylvania, Florida, Maine, Tennessee and Maryland as possible water sources on the labels EWG assessed. No treatment method is listed and none of the labels give consumers a contact to get information on water quality.


Nestlé’s Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water’s label lists two springs in Michigan as possible sources but fails to describe its treatment methods. None of the labels give consumers a contact to get information on water quality.


Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water’s label indicates that the source is either “deep protected wells” in Florida, Michigan or California or the public water supplies of specified cities in Pennsylvania, Colorado or Florida. The water is treated either by reverse osmosis or distillation, and all the labels include contact information for consumers seeking additional information on water quality.


Nestlé’s Ozarka Natural Spring Water label says the water is “a blend of Roher Spring, Henderson County, TX and Piney Wood Springs, Wood County, TX” but it does not list treatment methods or include contact information for requesting water quality reports.


Nestlé’s Poland Spring Natural Spring Water’s label lists a number of springs in Maine as possible sources but does not identify treatment methods or contacts for water quality information.


Nestlé’s Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water’s label lists four springs in Florida as possible sources but provides no information on whether or how the water is treated or contacts for obtaining water quality information.

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Water Bottle Pollution Facts

In 1976 Americans drank an average of 1.6 gallons of bottled water every year. Roughly 30 years later consumption increased to 30 gallons per person, according to the Earth Policy Institute — despite the fact that bottled water can cost anywhere from 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water, which is brought right to your home for pennies a gallon. Bottled water also creates its own share of pollution — the production of plastic bottles requires millions of barrels of oil per year and the transportation of bottled water from its source to stores releases thousands of tons of carbon dioxide. (See References 1)

Oil Consumption

According to “National Geographic,” Americans drink more bottled water than any other nation, purchasing an impressive 29 billion bottles every year. Making all the plastic for those bottles uses 17 million barrels of crude oil annually. That is equivalent to the fuel needed to keep 1 million vehicles on the road for 12 months. If you were to fill one quarter of a plastic water bottle with oil, you would be looking at roughly the amount used to produce that bottle. (See References 2)


The recycling rate for those 29 billion bottles of water is low; only about 13 percent end up in the recycling stream where they are turned into products like fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment and new containers and bottles. In 2005, that meant approximately 2 million tons of water bottles ended up in U.S. landfills, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (see References 3, Question 7). Plastic bottles take centuries to decompose and if they are incinerated, toxic byproducts, such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals, are released into the atmosphere.


Bottled water often takes a long journey to U.S. markets. In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles arrived in U.S. ports, according to the NRDC. Fiji shipped 18 million gallons of bottled water to California, releasing about 2,500 tons of transportation-related pollution. Western Europe’s shipment of bottled water to New York City that year released 3,800 tons of pollution. (See References 3, Question 7) The Earth Policy Institute estimates that the energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate bottled water is over 50 million barrels of oil annually (see References 4).


Bottled water isn’t always as safe as tap water. The NRDC conducted a four-year study of the bottled water industry and concluded that while most bottled water is safe to drink, there are areas of concern. Roughly 22 percent of the water tested contained contaminant levels that exceeded strict state health limits. One study found that hormone-disrupting phthalates had leached into bottled water that had been stored for 10 weeks. (See References 3, Questions 2 & 3)