Is it safe to drink water from plastic bottles?

People did not always buy bottled water the way they do today. For the most part, people needing a drink away from home would use a fountain or a cup to drink. And while it was common to see gallon-size containers in stores, smaller sizes were rare. But the beverage industry sensed a business opportunity and realized if they could get people to question the quality and safety of tap water, they could gradually scare them into switching to paying for something that used to be offered cheaply or for free. The tables have turned on that strategy, however, as water quality tests have shown the bottled products to be the real hazard in many surprising cases.

Drinking water from plastic bottles isn’t as safe as everyone thinks

Most people probably envision a tumbling natural stream or melting snow running down a dramatic maintain face when they picture what sort of water is in their elaborately labeled plastic bottle. In fact, the opposite is often the case. By some estimates, 25-45% of bottled water is sourced from municipal supplies. If you ever look on the label of your water bottle and see the phrases “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” this means it’s from the tap.

Those companies often get away with this blatant rebadging of the product they criticize because the tap water in much of the United State is actually pretty good. They publicly cast doubt on it, but privately fill their bottles with it and charge you as much as 1,900 times the price of basic tap water.

Bottled Water is the Least-Tested in the Nation

Perhaps you’re thinking that the bottlers must do additional filtering or testing to make sure their quality is better than tap water? Or you’re certain that the brand you drink isn’t engaged in this type of practice. But either way, know that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. In fact, in many jurisdictions the tap water is required to undergo rigorous testing and purification processes to remove pathogens, and get tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be.

On top of that, public water systems are required to be tested about 100 times per month – or more. A bottled water plant? It’s required to undergo quality and safety testing just once per week.

Plastic Water Bottles Pose an Additional Health Risk

One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles containing phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water.

Which Water Brands are the Worst for Contaminants?

The Environmental Working Group, a not-for-profit testing and advocacy group for consumer safety, has worked with leading independent labs to evaluate purity and safety. After purchasing a wide variety of bottles at random throughout eight different states and the District of Columbia, 38 different pollutants were found among 10 leading bottled water brands, with an average of 8 pollutants in each brand. These pollutants ranged from the byproducts of chlorination, disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes, and an array of cancer-causing chemicals that are prohibited in tap water supplies but largely unregulated in bottled water.

Consumers Reports recently tested 47 water brands to testing for PFAS chemicals – also called Forever Chemicals – because they never break down and continue doing damage almost indefinitely. PFAS is used in a wide range of products including as a water-proof liner in molded fiber food containers, fire retardants, stain-resistant carpet, non-stick cookware and other industrial purposes. The U.S. EPA limits PFAS exposure to 70 parts per trillion, while the International Bottled Water Association – an industry trade group – sets the bar for members at just 5 parts per trillion. Other labs have issued guidance that maximum exposure of just 1 part per trillion is safe. Basically – even a minuscule amount is too much.

(Helpful visual for 1 part per trillion: picture a cube that’s 10 feet on each side. Fill that box with sand and you’ll have 1 trillion grains of sand. Now imagine 1 grain is PFAS. That’s the maximum exposure you should have.)

What Consumers Reports found is that Nestle Waters’ Deer Park brand and Tourmaline Springs had PFAS levels in excess of 1 ppt, with 1.21 ppt and 4.64 ppt respectively. Starkey Springs Water tested high for arsenic, with 9.53 ppb. For the carbonated brands, seven tested above the 1 ppt threshold, including Perrier (1.11), La Croix (1.16), Canada Dry (1.24), Poland Spring (1.66), Bubly (2.24), Polar (6.41) and Topo Chico (9.76)

Drinking Bottled Water Seems Less Safe Than You Thought

Selling you bottled water is less about health and safety than about profits and marketing messages. Bottled water companies have the relatively simple task of getting you to question the quality of tap water. It’s not hard to do since many homes have older pipes which can give tap water a bad taste, but which has little to do with the water’s quality itself.

In reality, the likelier threat comes from the bottled water you just paid for, even though you already pay for water to come out of your kitchen tap. The water itself is increasingly contaminated with chemicals and byproducts you would never agree to drink, and that you would be outraged to hear were in your tap water. They aren’t safe to drink, and yet you’re being charged for the privilege. The smart move: put down the plastic water bottle and start filtering your home tap supplies with a faucet filter or a drip filter in a carafe. Pour that into your own refillable bottle, and you’ll have the best, safest water possible and at little cost.