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Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water

GAO-09-861T Published: Jul 08, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 08, 2009.
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Over the past decade, the per capita consumption of bottled water in the United States has more than doubled--from 13.4 gallons per person in 1997 to 29.3 gallons per person in 2007. With this increase have come several concerns, raised by public interest groups in recent years, over bottled water's quality and safety. For example, water quality testing conducted by some of these groups, and others, has shown that bottled water does not necessarily have lower levels of contamination than tap water. Furthermore, bottled water's potential environmental impact has also come under scrutiny. Several organizations have raised concerns about a low recycling rate for plastic water bottles, the amount of energy used to manufacture and transport the product, and the impact of groundwater extraction on local resources. This testimony is based on our June 2009 report, which is being publicly released today and addresses three issues: (1) the extent to which federal and state authorities regulate the quality of bottled water to ensure its safety, (2) the extent to which federal and state authorities regulate the accuracy of labels or claims regarding the purity and source of bottled water, and (3) the environmental impacts of bottled water.

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