Who Regulates the Bottled Water Industry? An Expert's Guide to Quality and Safety

The bottled water industry is regulated by a variety of organizations, both at the federal and state level. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for overseeing the safety and quality of bottled water in the United States, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates municipal tap water. Additionally, states may have their own regulations that are more stringent than federal regulations. Water can come from a variety of sources, including surface sources such as rivers, streams, lakes and glaciers, underground sources such as wells, springs, and aquifers, precipitation from rain and snow, and even seawater through desalination technology.

It is important to note that most water contains naturally dissolved minerals and chemicals, which are generally safe for consumption within established limits. The FDA is responsible for protecting consumers through the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C), which holds manufacturers accountable for producing safe, healthy, and truthfully labeled food products. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has long been advocating for additional federal regulations for bottled water and is actively involved in helping to develop such regulations. All IBWA members are subject to an annual plant inspection without notice by a nationally recognized external organization.

States also inspect bottled water sources and facilities. The IBWA maintains its own set of standards that are more stringent than those of the FDA. NSF International provides certification and auditing services to ensure that companies are producing quality products. NSF offers cost-effective technical and strategic consulting and training services customized to specific challenges and needs. It also provides R&D testing and laboratory services for the global plastics and plumbing industry.

As public health and safety regulations evolve around the world, companies must ensure that their employees receive the education and training essential to stay ahead of the curve. In the U. S., ingredients that are natural or added to water cannot exceed the maximum levels allowed by applicable federal or local regulations. However, the FDA does not require bottlers to undergo independent audits or product quality testing by a third party. Companies around the world also certify their bottled water to NSF standards so that people around the world can be sure of its purity. Bottled water is subject to comprehensive government regulation at both the federal and state levels.

The FDA requires that bottled water be regularly tested for the same contaminants as public tap water supplies. According to a survey by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 1998, the FDA had an average of less than one staff member dedicated to developing and issuing regulations on bottled water and less than one staff member dedicated to inspecting bottling plants. The FDA does not have the authority to require that bottled water samples be tested in certified laboratories as required by the EPA for municipal water testing. An identity standard that determines the specific characteristics of what can be considered bottled water is specified by labeling requirements set by the FDA. Many of the regulations intended to protect bottled water are enforced through inspections at bottling plants but due to limited funding allocated by the FDA for enforcement of bottled water regulations, it is important for consumers to look for companies whose products have been certified by NSF as a sign of commitment to producing quality products.