To Bottle or Not to Bottle...Is Bottled Water Really Better than Tap Water?

Once upon a time, most Americans got their water only from the tap. Now, they're often buying their water in a bottle. At work, after a workout, or just about any time, Americans are drinking bottled water in record numbers--a whopping 5 billion gallons in 2001, according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), an industry trade group. That's about the same amount of water that falls from the American Falls at Niagara Falls in two hours!

Explosive growth in the industry for more than a decade has placed bottled water in nearly every supermarket, convenience store and vending machine from coast to coast, where dozens of brands compete for consumers' dollars. In four years, industry experts anticipate that bottled water will be second only to soda pop as America's beverage of choice.

Water, of course, is essential to human health. Drinking enough water to replace whatever is lost through bodily functions is important. But surveys indicate that most of us might not be drinking enough. Is bottled water part of the answer? To decide, consumers need to arm themselves with knowledge about what they're buying before they grab the next bottle of Dasani, Evian or Perrier off the shelf.

Different Varieties

Bottled water may seem like a relatively new idea--one born during the heightened awareness of fitness and potential water pollution during the last two or three decades. However, water has been bottled and sold far from its source for thousands of years. In Europe, water from mineral springs was often thought to have curative and sometimes religious powers. Pioneers trekking west across the United States during the 19th century also typically considered drinkable (portable) water a staple to be purchased in anticipation of the long trip across the arid West.