FDA and EPA: What water can you trust?
By Abraham Chan
With each day that passes, the U.S. continues to become more advanced and sophisticated than the day before. Thus, requiring the federal government to take charge of social, economic, and environmental problems. Water regulation is a critical responsibility because water affects all types of life. It is critical to cellular function, chemical reactions, and the overall well-being of the ecosystem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are responsible for water regulation in the U.S.
Although the EPA and FDA both regulate water, the two agencies are responsible for different types of water. The FDA is responsible for regulating bottled water, while the EPA is responsible for regulating public drinking water. Each agency comes with a set of different practices and policies that change the quality of water. It leaves the consumer to decide which source of water is best for themselves, family and loved ones. How do consumers decide which water to drink? This article will answer that question after first discussing the regulatory responsibilities of the FDA and EPA, and then exploring some concerns of both bottled water and tap water.
The FDA regulates the safety of bottled water. To do so, the FDA has set Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) specific to bottled water. This requires all operations, transport, and holding places to be in compliance with FDA practices as outlined in the CGMPs. It also requires the water to be tested from both the source and the final product for contaminants and bacteria.[i]
The EPA focuses on environmental public drinking water. The EPA is responsible for the overview process of the water system. This includes instructions on specific practices to regulate public drinking water supply. This includes issuing permits to industrial businesses that limit the amount of pollutants they are able to discharge in water. Additionally, the EPA requires states and territories to specify the main intentions for how the water supply will be used, (recreational, agricultural and industrial use e.t.c). It also gives grants for water quality control and requires the technical treatment of over 90 contaminants in municipal water.[ii]
Drinking Water Contaminants
Americans love bottled water. According to the International Bottled Water Association, (IBWA) bottled water is the second most popular drink, with carbonated drinks being the most popular. In a study conducted by IBWA, it took 1.63 liters of water to make a liter of bottled water.[iii] It is believed that an estimated “75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic is currently found in the ocean.”[iv] Despite efforts to halt plastic consumption, the reality is that most plastic items can never fully go away. Instead, it breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces that can enter through inhalation. Which asks, should I drink tap water instead?
Although there are stringent safety measures in place, water that is safe to drink is not made up of 100% water. Some of the items that can be found in water can range from fluoride, (prevents tooth decay) and minerals such as iron and zinc.[v] Much of the water is tested at a local facility that treats the water; however, it does not take in account potential contaminants through the different pipes of a town. In 2016, two elementary schools in Jefferson County had traces of lead, ranging from two to eight water sources, such as the drinking fountains, sinks used by students.[vi] Drinking lead has been shown to increase blood pressure and lower kidney function. The water was safe to drink; but the pipes that the water had contact needed to be replaced. If you have questions about the water that comes from your faucet, you can local water supplier to get a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR).[vii] The CCR report list different contaminants found in water, and whether the water has met EPA standards.
What’s Safe in My Water?
Ultimately, it comes down to being educated on the source of the water, the governing body responsible, and the location you are at. Each year, the EPA requires community water suppliers to inform consumers of the quality of the water. The report lists the source of water, and contaminants in the water, lead, nitrates, and arsenic.[viii] In bottled water, each bottle is required to inform the consumer on the source of the water, which could reveal that it may just be tap water in a bottle. This could provide valuable information about which drinking water is right for you. Perhaps you may live in a developed neighborhood; thus, would not have to buy water that could save your wallet. Or you may live in an area where it’s possible to reuse a five-gallon water jug. It depends on what you do with the information you are given.
“Consumer Confidence Reports | Public Water Systems | Drinking Water | Healthy Water | CDC,” October 19, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/understanding_ccr.html.
“Elevated Lead Levels Found in Drinking Water of 2 JeffCo Public Schools.” Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/16/lead-found-in-drinking-water-jefferson-county-elementary-schools/.
“Environmental Footprint – Bottled Water | IBWA | Bottled Water,” January 9, 2012. https://bottledwater.org/environmental-footprint/.
“Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico?” Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-tap-water-safe-to-drink#tap-water-components.
Martin, Richard, Avroy Fanaroff, and Michele Walsh. Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, 2-Volume Set – 11th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2019.
Nutrition, Center for Food Safety and Applied. “FDA Regulates the Safety of Bottled Water Beverages Including Flavored Water and Nutrient-Added Water Beverages.” FDA, June 23, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/fda-regulates-safety-bottled-water-beverages-including-flavored-water-and-nutrient-added-water.
US EPA, OW. “Drinking Water Regulations.” Collections and Lists, September 21, 2015. https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/drinking-water-regulations.
“Visual Feature | Beat Plastic Pollution.” Accessed July 13, 2022. http://unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/.
[i] Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “FDA Regulates the Safety of Bottled Water Beverages Including Flavored Water and Nutrient-Added Water Beverages,” FDA, June 23, 2020, https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/fda-regulates-safety-bottled-water-beverages-including-flavored-water-and-nutrient-added-water.
[ii] OW US EPA, “Drinking Water Regulations,” Collections and Lists, September 21, 2015, https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/drinking-water-regulations.
[iii] “Environmental Footprint – Bottled Water | IBWA | Bottled Water,” January 9, 2012, https://bottledwater.org/environmental-footprint/.
[iv] “Visual Feature | Beat Plastic Pollution,” accessed July 13, 2022, http://unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/.
[v] “Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico?,” accessed July 13, 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/is-tap-water-safe-to-drink#tap-water-components.
[vi] “Elevated Lead Levels Found in Drinking Water of 2 JeffCo Public Schools,” accessed July 13, 2022, https://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/16/lead-found-in-drinking-water-jefferson-county-elementary-schools/.
[vii] “Consumer Confidence Reports | Public Water Systems | Drinking Water | Healthy Water | CDC,” October 19, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/understanding_ccr.html.
[viii] Richard Martin, Avroy Fanaroff, and Michele Walsh, Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, 2-Volume Set – 11th Edition (Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2019).