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By: Victor Barnette on September 24th, 2020

Drinking Water Standards: FDA vs. EPA Guidelines

Whether you are drinking water from the faucet or from a bottle, both are regulated by the government. The two main regulatory bodies in regard to drinking water consist of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates municipal tap water. 

Now that we have established both are regulated by the government, is one option safer than the other? In all actuality, federal law mandates that either regulatory set of standards must be no less stringent than the other. Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities in federal guidelines for bottled vs. tap water. 

Here at Exell, we believe everyone deserves a safe glass of water whenever they want one. While we provide both bottled water and filtration services, we want you to be able to assess the information you get from both the FDA and EPA, no matter where you get your water from.

Regulations for Bottled Water

Bottled water is regulated at three different levels: federal, state, and trade association. The FDA treats bottled water as it would any packaged food item, so it must follow the guidelines of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). This means that it is safe from any pesticide residue. 

It also must meet the standards for identification for ingredients and sourcing listed on the container, ensuring a safe and truthful label for food products. 

While the FDA regulations are for all food items, there are regulations specific to bottled water. These include: 

  1.     Standard of identity- the FDA specifies that bottled water is intended for consumption and that it must be sealed with no added ingredients. It also states that bottled water must label the source.
  2.     Standard of quality- this sets the standards for the level of allowable contaminants. This includes chemical, physical, microbial and radiological contaminants. 
  3.     Current good manufacturing practice (CGMP)- this regulates the production of bottled water, requiring it to be manufactured in a sanitary manner. 

In addition to the FDA standards, bottled water is also regulated by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Their industry standards are arguably stricter than the EPA or FDA drinking water requirements. 

The IBWA enforces unannounced plant inspections to be conducted annually by a nationally recognized third-party organization. While the IBWA does not have the same authority as the government, it is able to coerce the government agencies to act when members are in violation of safety standards. 

Regulations for Tap Water 

The EPA regulates tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA). This sets limitations on contaminants in drinking water, not to exceed a level that is dangerous to human health. Additionally, the EPA also adheres to scheduled water-testing and methods that water systems must follow. 

The Safe Drinking Water Act gives each individual state the opportunity to set their own standards for drinking water, as long as they are as stringent or more so than the national standards set by the EPA. This means that, depending on the state, tap water may be more federally regulated than bottled water. 

The EPA attempts to ensure consumer confidence by requiring water utility companies to provide annual quality reports to their customers. These reports tell the customer the source of the water, the contaminant levels, and the health effects that can occur from consumption. 

It is important to note that this is for municipal water facilities and not for private wells. The individual is responsible for their own contaminant testing for their private wells, and depending on the situation, it is recommended more frequently than one per year. 

The EPA has also established National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs), which are a non-enforceable set of guidelines for contaminants that are labeled as a nuisance and not dangerous to human health. These contaminants may cause cosmetic problems, such as skin or tooth discoloration, or may be aesthetically unpleasant in taste, odor, or color. While they are not federally mandated, individual states may choose to enforce them. 

Which Is Safer: Bottled Water or Tap Water?

Both bottled and tap water appear to be equally safe options, however it is important to note that contamination can still occur. 

The EPA guidelines are for water only while it is in the treatment facility and do not extend once the distribution process has begun. Depending on your plumbing situation, the water could be contaminated by the time it reaches your faucet. 

If you do decide to continue drinking water from the tap, please consider calling Exell to perform a complimentary site survey. This is to ensure that your water is safe for consumption. During this process, we will measure the total dissolved solids (TDS) in your water supply. Once this has been completed, we suggest looking into the filtration and purification services that we offer, such as reverse osmosis (RO) and microfiltration systems

If you decide that you are more comfortable with bottled water, we have options for that as well. While bottled water has many benefits, there are also drawbacks to consistently drinking individual bottles. As a more environmentally friendly option, we offer bottled water delivery for water cooler systems, which use BPA free, reusable jugs.  

Whatever you decide, know that Exell is here to answer any questions that you have about your water service needs. We have over 80 years of experience and a team of experts ready to help.