Auditing and Financial Management:

FDA Could Do More to Ensure the Safety of Bottled Water

T-RCED-91-29: Published: Apr 10, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1991.

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GAO discussed the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) efforts to ensure the safety of bottled water. GAO noted that: (1) FDA had not complied with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requirements since 1976, or since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted revised health-based drinking water standards; (2) EPA issued drinking water standards for 32 substances and projected that it would issue another 29 standards by March 1992; (3) since mineral water was not regulated by any federal water quality standards, some states defined and set their own standards; (4) FDA had little assurance that periodic tests were done since it did not require bottlers to keep test results long enough for FDA inspection, report the test results to FDA, or used certified laboratories for the tests; and (5) FDA did not routinely use state inspection and test results to help eliminate duplicative inspections and tests. GAO noted that: (1) consumers may pay up to 1,200 times more per gallon for bottled water than for tap water because they believe it tastes better, is safe and healthy, or is free of contaminants; (2) as much as 25 percent of the bottled water may be treated tap water drawn from public drinking water systems; and (3) some consumers may be misled by terms and labels used on bottled water products.

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