Contamination sparks drinking water worries, but what's really in that bottle version?
Bottled water is a billion dollar industry, and there are more options than ever.
When you buy a case of bottled water, do you really know where it comes from or what you’re paying for? When cities go into water emergencies, how do they decide whether to buy Ice Mountain Spring Water or Dasani purified water?
Newschannel 3 learned there are basically three types of bottled water on the market: spring water; purified or distilled water; and enhanced water. All three options are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Michigan, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) oversee bottled water production.
To put it simply, spring water is drawn from a natural spring.
According to the FDA, spring water is defined as water flowing naturally to the surface of the earth from an underground formation. It is collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring.
The state DEQ explains, “Spring water must be proven to come from an aquifer that discharges to the surface as a spring. The spring must remain flowing for the water to be considered spring water. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the label rules which dictate that requirement.”
Bottles of spring water almost always identify their source. Nestle’s Ice Mountain Spring water bottles list their source as Evart Spring in Evart Michigan or White Pine Spring, also in Evart. Absobure, Poland Spring, and other brands of spring water reveal the source right on the bottle.
Spring water is sometimes treated with minerals for purity depending on the brand.
Western Michigan University Professor Duane Hampton was recently invited by Nestle to tour its facilities in Stanwood, Mich. As a geohydrologist, Hampton has been studying water on earth for decades. He said he approved of Nestle’s production standards.
“The plant is very impressive, and their source protection is very impressive,” Hampton said. “I certainly came away with a lot of respect for Nestle's Ice Mountain Operation up there. They have source control, and a lot of hygienic practices for getting the water and sending them via underground pipes to the bottling plant."
Nestle Waters North America spokesman said the company takes great care to provide safe, high-quality bottled water products and to manage water resources in a sustainable manner. Testing occurs many times throughout the production process, the company said, to ensure that the water meets or exceeds Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and industry quality standards, as well its own standards.
Purified water is taken from a municipal source and simply treated and packaged for consumption. It’s often treated by reverse osmosis, charcoal filtering, distillation and other methods to purify it.
According to the FDA, the name applies to water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes and that meets the definition of "purified water" in the United States.
MDEQ said, “water labeled as purified is usually municipal water that is run through a filter of some type.”
Unless a bottle specifically says it’s spring water, what you’re drinking is purified water. It could come from a lake, a river or a well. Popular brands such as Dasani (Coca-Cola Co.) and Aquafina (PepsiCo Inc.) and most generic brands you buy from Walmart, Meijer or other chain stores are purified water. Some list their sources on the bottle, such as Absopure, but most do not.
We tried to find the source of Dasani, Aquafina, and Meijer’s purified water.
Representatives for PepsiCo Incorporated said there were 40 purification sites (Aquafina Sources) around the country where Aquafina water is made. The representatives would not say where specifically. We called the phone number on the bottle, and a representative asked for a number printed on the bottle, which allowed her to look up the source. A case of Aquafina bought in Kalamazoo is purified water from Detroit.
Newschannel 3 reached out multiple times to Coca Cola to ask about the source of its Dasani brand water, but we received no response. When we called the phone number listed on the bottle “for water quality and information,” the representative told us he could not disclose to Newschannel 3 the source of Dasani water.
We reached out to Meijer, and they did not disclose the source of its Meijer brand water. The bottle states it was distributed by Meijer Distribution Incorporated in Grand Rapids. The company's public relations team offered this statement: “We use several different vendors for our bottled water and each vendor has their specific sources for water. Meijer follows industry standards for working with vendors that comply with all federal and state regulations, as well as all appropriate FDA guidelines for the processing and bottling of bottled drinking water.”
Enhanced or mineral water can originate as either spring or purified water, but the elements in it distinguish it from the rest. If you think of brands such as Glaceau’s Smartwater or Gatorade’s Propel, they sometimes add elements such as potassium, sodium and magnesium to enhance the water’s nutritional value. They also might add artificial or natural flavoring such as lemon or other fruit flavors, but mineral water is not the same as enhanced water.
To be considered mineral water, the FDA reports "Mineral water shall be distinguished from other types of water by its constant level and relative proportions of minerals and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source, with a consideration of natural cycles of fluctuation." However, no minerals may be added to this water.
So, is there a significant difference between any of them? Newschannel 3's expert said not really.
"In terms of health benefit, there are those who feel there are some sources that impart a health benefit," Hampton said. "I don't honestly believe if you drink distilled water or purified water, that it's going to be any better for you than drinking ground water."
However, there are some important things to note. Hampton said people usually buy water based on the best taste, not the source.
"It turns out most of us don't like distilled water. Most of us don't like pure water. We like water with taste," Hampton said. "There's actually water Sommeliers that tell you what water tastes the best."
Hampton points to a lot of factors that make the water we drink similar, whether it be from the tap or the bottle.
"What is pure water? Ground water has elements from the ground that it has dissolved in the water. In fact, most of us drinking water here in Kalamazoo think our water is pretty hard. That's because it's dissolved some of the limestone that's in the rock. Does that make it impure? It just makes it ground water, it makes it hard," Hampton said. "If you want to distill the water, that will be pure water."
Hampton also said that most distilled and purified water is just repackaged and treated city water.
"Drinking city water, is generally speaking, the safest thing you can do. They're required to test the water for all kinds of things," Hampton said. "Until recently they didn't test for PFAS because they didn't know. That wasn't on the list, but they test for different things, multiple times a year."
Hampton said that is why most bottled water is just repackaged city water.
"Aquafina, Dasani. you paid $2 for a bottle, it's just city water in a bottle. You're just paying for convenience," Hampton said. "The reason they use city water? The testing has already been done, so it's known to be safe, so it's free to them."
Emergency Bottled Water
Rebecca Fleury remembers needing to find a massive amount of bottled water, and find it quickly. When higher-than-normal levels of manganese were found in Battle Creek’s water supply this past summer, Fleury, the city manager, was on a mission to find clean water for infants and older residents.
"We were worried about the price, we weren't worried about the quality, since they were all pre-packaged bottles. It was all about how we could get them the fastest, and yes, about what price, but that was secondary to making sure we could get the amounts of water we needed," Fleury said.
Most cities and towns will first go to their vendors they work with routinely for help obtaining massive amounts of water in a hurry.
"At first, we started calling our partners. So we work with Sam's Club a lot on some things; they were the first partner to come in with water. Then FireKeepers and PepsiCo,” Fleury said.
The money to pay for that water usually comes from the local government’s funds. Fleury drew money from Battle Creek’s general fund to pay for the emergency water the city needed.
"In the end, I think we spent about $78,000 on water," Fleury said.
Fluery actually bought a surplus of water for the manganese advisory, which lasted less than three days. Fleury said the excess water took up a lot of room in the city’s storage facilities. In just a few months, however, they were able to unload that excess water, selling it to Parchment, Mich. when the water advisory began in that community.
In Parchment’s case, Michigan declared a state of emergency several days after the “do-not-drink” order was issued. After the declaration, state agencies were able to start providing water to Parchment residents.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration code on beverages
- Michigan Modified Food Code
- U.S. FDA update on bottled water
With so many communities discovering contaminates in the drinking supply, many are turning to bottled water, but it sparks the question: What is the real difference?
Newschannel 3 takes a special look at bottled water, Where does it come from? How is it treated?
Watch at 11 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, and return to WWMT.com as Newschannel 3's Jake Berent explores water worries.