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Modern bottled water court decisions give us quick glimpses into the sources of bottled water. For example:

* The Nestle company, which bottles water under several well-known labels, fought ferociously in court to retain its rights to appropriate water from the Great Lakes - to put in bottles - to sell to you and me. When Michigan's government instituted a new law that allows Nestle Corporation to continue taking up to 250,000 gallons per day, and sell them at a markup well over 240 times its production cost, Nestle dropped the court battle.

* In Vermont, "Poland Spring" (also a Nestle product) was brought to court with a complaint that the bottled water in "Poland Spring" came not from "some of the most pristine and protected sources deep in the woods of Maine," as advertised, but from other sources. In fact, on occasion, the water was trucked in from an unknown source out of state! But the court reasoned that Congress and the FDA made a conscious choice to allow states to regulate bottled water as long as their standards matched FDA standards. The bottled water met both standards, even though the source and advertised source were not the same.

What is bottled water?

The United States Food and Drug Administration says bottled water is any water meant for humans to drink that is sealed in bottles with nothing added except...

Aye, There's The Rub!

As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, speaking of sleep and death, "Aye, there's the rub."

Bottled water may have nothing added except, and suddenly, with that small phrase, "bottled water" becomes something other than the pure water we thought we were buying.

Except what? Well, bottled water may contain "safe and suitable antimicrobial agents" if the bottler wishes. Fluoride may be added, but it has to be within established limitations, of course. So that's what bottled water is.

Where Do They Get Bottled Water From?

Excuse the preposition at the end, but this question is frequently being asked just that way. Where do they get bottled water from?

As seen in the court cases cited above, they get bottled water from various sources: lakes, streams, wells, springs, glacier run-off, and even from municipal water supplies.

Bottled Water May Be Tap Water

You will probably be surprised to learn that they get at least 25% of our bottled water right from the tap. Bottlers simply bottle the local tap water, label it, and ship it off to stores. Sometimes they treat it first - sometimes they don't. We consumers pay up to 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than we would pay for tap water.

What disreputable bottler would get bottled water from a tap?

1. The Coca-Cola company - for "Dasani" bottled water. Coca-Cola admits this.

2. The Pepsi Cola Company - for "Aquafina" bottled water. Apparently, Pepsi is not required to tell you this on the label.

Most bottled water is processed with filters and other treatments, but you should read labels carefully. Bottled water that is packaged as "purified" or "drinking water" probably is tap water, and unless it was "substantially" altered, the label must tell you that. However, as noted above regarding the Pepsi Cola Company, sometimes a bottler can get away without telling you.

Learn Where They Get Your Brand of Bottled Water

1. Examine the label and cap on your bottled water. Look for the phrase "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system" on either. Those phrases mean tap water. The absence of the phrases is no guarantee that the bottle does not contain tap water, but their presence means it does.

2. In some states, you can find out the source from the state bottled water program. Not every state has this, but some like New York and Massachusetts list bottled water sources. Call the state where your bottled water originates and ask.

3. Call or write the bottling company itself to learn where they get your bottled water. Ask about health and safety measures used in bottling, filtration or other treatment, and additives.

If you choose to buy bottled water and are concerned about where they get it, do your homework. Research the various brands, and find those that truly use known, protected sources. Look for bottlers who are not afraid to share publicly all information on testing and treatment that will tell you water quality.
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