Water drinkers can learn much more about any contaminants present in tap water than they can bottled water, according to two reports released last week.
Differences in how the two are regulated have led to gaps in requirements for bottled water. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water as a food, does not require bottlers to disclose information about waters' source or treatment - or about what contaminants it might contain. The Environmental Protection Agency requires much more testing for tap water, as well as annual water quality reports.
Public drinking water has been required to meet EPA standards for phthalates more than a decade. The FDA has never set a limit for phthalate levels.
"If the municipal tap water systems can tell their customers this information, you would think that bottled water companies that charge 1,000 times more for this water could also let consumers know the same thing," Richard Wiles of Environmental Working Group, which authored one of the reports, told the Associated Press.
Report findings were presented to members of Congress last week during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, the New York Times reports.
"Neither the public nor federal regulators know nearly enough about where bottled water comes from and what safeguards are in place to ensure its safety,” said Representative Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) in a statement opening the hearing. “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."
The first step, researchers wrote, is requiring label information that tells consumers how to find out more about where their water comes from and what's in it.
Labeling requirements are gaining ground in other arenas as well. The Household Product Labeling Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) in June, would require complete, accurate listings of phthalates and other chemicals in products like detergents and fabric softeners.
“We require ingredient labeling for the food we put in our mouths, but not for soap in which we wash our plates," Rep. Israel said. "The lack of labeling required for household products is ludicrous, it’s dangerous, and it’s due for a change.