Bottled water business faces government scrutiny

by Staff
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WASHINGTON — The members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation would like to know why the producers of tap water carry a greater regulatory burden than the producers of bottled water. In a hearing held July 8, Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan outlined the areas where municipal water suppliers face greater regulatory oversight than bottled water processors.

"For example, municipal tap water suppliers are required to tell their customers within 24 hours if they find dangerous contaminants that exceed federal levels," he said. "But this requirement does not apply to bottled water companies.

"Certified laboratories must be used to test tap water, but bottled water has no similar requirement."

He added that tap water suppliers must provide their customers with annual consumer confidence reports that outline the sources of the water, any contamination found, the likely cause of the contamination and any potential health effects. Bottled water suppliers are not required to provide such information to customers.

As part of the hearing two separate studies conducted by the Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Working Group were discussed. The G.A.O. report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration issue a standard of quality regulation for DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), a compound used to produce plastics, and the agency develop a standard that requires bottled water producers to provide information regarding their sources of water.

The International Bottled Water Association, Alexandria, Va., said it is ready to work with the F.D.A. on the two recommendations.

An investigation conducted by the E.W.G. of bottled water products found that less than 2% disclose the water’s source, how the water has been purified and what chemical pollutants each bottle of water may contain. Just 2 of the 188 individual brands E.W.G. analyzed disclosed those three basic facts about their water.

But the I.B.W.A. countered that the E.W.G. report found nothing to indicate the industry was in violation of any regulations.

"Consumers can continue to have a high confidence in bottled water’s safety and quality," said Joe Doss, president and chief executive officer of the I.B.W.A. "There is nothing in this brief report that points to any improper labeling by water bottlers. The E.W.G. report criticizes the F.D.A. for allowing the term ‘purified’ water, considering it ‘ambiguous,’ but the term is an official classification that meets the strict U.S. Pharmacopeia standard. The report amounts to a special interest group’s wish list of what they want to impose on bottled water but not what the law reflects."

As a result of the hearing, the subcommittee issued letters to bottled water manufacturers seeking information on product testing, consumer complaints, contamination, sources of water, and lists of treatment methods used by companies. The subcommittee set a deadline of Aug. 10 for the companies to respond.

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