N E W Y O R K, May 11, 2001 -- The booming sales of bottled water suggest that a lot of people think bottled water is better for them than tap water.
But a recent study from the Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund International may be throwing some water on that belief. The study finds bottled water is no safer or healthier than what you get when you turn on your kitchen faucet.
But does the expensive stuff at least taste better? Good Morning America's studio audience didn't think so. In fact, in a taste test administered by Olympic medalist and GMA contributor Dara Torres, the audience picked tap water as the clear favorite.
And the Winner Is...
The goal of the test was to see which water tastes better, and whether people can tell the difference between expensive water and tap water. The waters in the studio audience taste test included: New York City tap water, O2, an oxygenated water, and two bottle brands, Poland Spring and Evian.
#1: New York City Tap: received 45% of the vote
#2: Poland Spring: received 24% of the vote
#3: O-2, Oxygenated Water: received 19% of the vote
#4: Evian: received 12% of the vote
Though staying hydrated is especially crucial for athletes, they are not the only ones who are toting water bottles. The bottled water business has been accelerating rapidly in the past three years, bringing in close to $5.2 billion in 1999, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation.
The marketing organization says that within the next five years, bottled water is on track to bypass beer, coffee and tea to become the second largest-selling beverage in the country, just after soft drinks.
And Americans gulp down more than 18 gallons of bottled water per person every year. In many cases, consumers think bottled water tastes better than tap water, because it lacks the chlorine taste, and they perceive it as being safer and of better quality.
Tap Water Just as Good?
But the World Wildlife Fund International study asserts that "bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water, while selling for up to 1,000 times the price."
Bottled water companies are capitalizing on consumer concerns about the safety of municipal water, but in fact there are more standards regulating tap water in Europe and the United States than there are in the bottled water industry, the environmental group said in the report.
The companies have countered this criticism by noting that the USDA regulates American bottled water as a packaged food product. And in other countries, bottled water is a necessity for consumers who do not have adequate public water supplies.
In any case, the report notes that the bottled water industry uses 1.5 million tons of plastic annually to package the water, and the manufacture and disposal of the plastic sends toxic chemicals into the environment.