What's in the bottle?
AROUND THE WORLD: With 212 new varieties appearing in 2001 alone, a supermarket's water aisle can resemble a beverage United Nations. The latest splash in the market is "enhanced" water, which can include flavors, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.
Bottled water isn't necessarily safer than tap water. About one-quarter of bottled water is tap water that has been processed and repackaged, according to industry estimates.
And though bottled-water quality is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose standards for contaminants take into account the Environmental Protection Agency's tap-water standards, the two standards aren't always identical.
For example, the EPA requires that tap water be monitored for asbestos, while the FDA imposes no such requirement on bottled-water manufacturers, maintaining that the sources aren't likely to contain asbestos.
While bottled-water companies must hew to rules for sanitary production, some standards for bottled water are stricter than for tap, such as those for fluoride and lead. But some are not.
Bottled-water companies aren't required to disinfect or test for parasites such as Cryptosporidium or Giardia -- a requirement for city tap water. Again, the FDA says the sources of bottled water are unlikely to harbor the parasites.
For most people, bottled water is safe if it meets FDA standards. Our August 2000 report, which tested and analyzed major brands for contaminants, revealed few worrisome results. Here's what we found then:
RISING TIDE: Spurred by sales of the market leaders, Coke-owned Dasani and Pepsi-owned Aquafina -- "purified" waters whose sources are municipal supplies -- bottled water sales surged 11.5 percent in 2001.
Here are the main types of bottled water available:
Price and Taste
Bottled water isn't cheap; prices average about 89 cents for a 1-gallon jug, the kind supermarkets sell. At that rate, a typical household would spend $214 a year for drinking water. And if they wanted it delivered at home? Add about $325 or more per year.