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Bottled Water Safety Standards Address Health Concerns

Aug 17, 2007
While the term bottled water is widely used, the term packaged water is perhaps more accurate. Water sold in countries for consumption can come in cans, laminated boxes and even plastic bags. However, bottled water is most commonly sold in glass or disposable plastic bottles.

So when you buy your drinking water, you are assuming that it is "pure." After all, that is why you bought it. You figure that it must be cleaner and healthier for you than your regular tap water. If it was not, then there is no real point in paying the exorbitant costs of the bottled water. However, you might be wrong in your assumption.

Drinking-water may be contaminated by a range of chemical, microbial and physical hazards that could pose risks to health if they are present at high levels. Examples of chemical hazards include lead, arsenic and benzene. Microbial hazards include bacteria, viruses and parasites, such as Vibrio cholerae, hepatitis A virus, and Crytosporidium parvum, respectively. Physical hazards include glass chips and metal fragments.

Because of the large number of possible hazards in drinking-water, the development of standards for drinking-water requires significant resources and expertise, which many countries are unable to afford. Fortunately, guidance is available at the international level.

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality which many countries use as the basis to establish their own national standards. The Guidelines represent a scientific assessment of the risks to health from biological and chemical constituents of drinking-water and of the effectiveness of associated control measures.

WHO recommends that social, economic and environmental factors be taken into account through a risk-benefit approach when adapting the Guideline values to national standards. As the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality are meant to be the scientific point of departure for standards development, including bottled water; actual standards will sometimes vary from the Guidelines.

It should also be noted that water used for making edible ice should be subject to the same drinking-water standard and include specific sanitary requirements for equipment for making and storing ice.

In applying the WHO Guidelines to bottled waters, certain factors may be more readily controlled than in piped distribution systems and stricter standards may, therefore, be preferred in order to reduce overall population exposure. This has, for example, been argued for the case of lead.

Similarly, when flexibility exists regarding the source of the water, stricter standards for certain naturally-occurring substances of health concern, such as arsenic and fluoride, may be more readily achieved than in piped distribution systems.

Contrary to this, some substances may prove more difficult to manage in bottled than tap water. This is generally because bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than water distributed in piped distribution systems. Control of materials used in containers and closures for bottled waters is, therefore, of special concern.

In addition, some micro-organisms, which are normally of little or no public health significance, may grow to higher levels in bottled waters. This growth appears to occur less frequently in gasified water and in water bottled in glass containers compared to still water and water bottled in plastic containers.
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