Bottled Water...Mineral, Artesian, Spring, What Does It Mean?

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!

The birage of new "bottled water" labels makes it confusing. To make sense of it all, this is how the FDA classifies some bottled water according to its origin:

  • Artesian well water. Water from a well that taps an aquifer--layers of porous rock, sand and earth that contain water--which is under pressure from surrounding upper layers of rock or clay. When tapped, the pressure in the aquifer, commonly called artesian pressure, pushes the water above the level of the aquifer, sometimes to the surface. Other means may be used to help bring the water to the surface. According to the EPA, water from artesian aquifers often is more pure because the confining layers of rock and clay impede the movement of contamination. However, despite the claims of some bottlers, there is no guarantee that artesian waters are any cleaner than ground water from an unconfined aquifer, the EPA says.

  • Mineral water. Water from an underground source that contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. Minerals and trace elements must come from the source of the underground water. They cannot be added later.

  • Spring water. Derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the earth's surface. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. If some external force is used to collect the water through a borehole, the water must have the same composition and quality as the water that naturally flows to the surface.

  • Well water. Water from a hole bored or drilled into the ground, which taps into an aquifer. Bottled water may be used as an ingredient in beverages, such as diluted juices or flavored bottled waters. However, beverages labeled as containing "sparkling water," "seltzer water," "soda water," "tonic water," or "club soda" are not included as bottled water under the FDA's regulations, because these beverages have historically been considered soft drinks.

Some bottled water also comes from municipal sources--in other words--the tap. Municipal water is usually treated before it is bottled.

Examples of water treatments include:

  • Distillation. In this process, water is turned into a vapor. Since minerals are too heavy to vaporize, they are left behind, and the vapors are condensed into water again.

  • Reverse osmosis. Water is forced through membranes to remove minerals in the water.

  • Absolute 1 micron filtration. Water flows through filters that remove particles larger than one micron in size, such as Cryptosporidium, a parasitic protozoan.

  • Ozonation. Bottlers of all types of waters typically use ozone gas, an antimicrobial agent, to disinfect the water instead of chlorine, since chlorine can leave residual taste and odor to the water. Bottled water that has been treated by distillation, reverse osmosis, or other suitable process and that meets the definition of "purified water" in the U.S. Pharmacopeia can be labeled as "purified water."

For more on how the FDA regulates our drinking water, and bottled water, please read the MedicineNet.com Health Fact, "To Bottle or Not to Bottle...Is Bottled Water Really Better than Tap Water?"

Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the FDA online Consumer Magazine July-August, 2002. (Original author of this article in the FDA report is Anne Christiansen Bullers.)
Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2002




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