- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2000

Bottled, tap or filtered, what type of water we drink doesn't make a difference.
"Water is water," says Dr. Aviad Haramati, professor of physiology at Geo-rgetown University School of Medicine. "Some water tastes funny; some water tastes better than others."
According to participants in the International Water Tasting competition in Coolfont, W.Va., earlier this year, D.C. water finished in the top 20 of best-tasting water samples. Water from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which supplies Maryland, and the Fairfax County Water Authority, did not make the finals.
However, if bottled water is your preference, read the label to know what you are getting.
According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, if the word "spring" is on the label, the water must have come from a spring. A spring is defined as a hole in the Earth in which the water flows naturally.
Often, however, the public is confused because about 25 percent of the bottled water in this country is municipal water that has been purified. This type of water, which has gone through significant processing such as reverse osmosis, deionization and activated carbon treatment, is labeled "drinking" or "purified" water.
Images on the labels may be misleading, too. Aquafina water, for instance, formerly used design work that conjured images of mountains and snow, leading consumers to think subliminally that the water was from a mountain spring. In reality, Aquafina is bottled at Pepsi plants with municipal water, according to the International Bottled Water Association.
FDA guidelines allow the word "natural" to be used for bottled water that is derived from springs or wells where the natural chemical (mineral and trace elements) composition of the water has not been altered in a treatment process. To be labeled "mineral" water, the water must contain at least 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids or, in other words, have a consistent mineral source throughout the supply.
Still, not all bottled waters are exactly what their labels claim. A recent study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Ohio State University compared the purity and fluoride levels of 57 samples of bottled water with tap water from each of four treatment plants in Cleveland.
Only three bottled waters had fluoride levels within the Environmental Protective Agency's recommended ranges of 0.80 to 1.30 milligrams of fluoride per liter.
All of the tap samples, meanwhile, scored near the optimal level of 1.00 milligrams per liter.
In the tap water, bacterial counts varied from 0.2 to 2.7 bacterial colonies per milliliter. In the bottled water, which many people drink because they believe it to be safer than tap water, bacterial counts ranged from 0.01 to 4,900 colonies per milliliter. Six of the bottled samples had between 1,500 and 4,900 colonies per milliliter, the report says. Fifteen bottled samples had significantly higher bacteria levels than the tap water.
The study was published in the March issue of the Archives of Family Medicine.
Despite the high bacteria levels, all the water tested was deemed safe to drink under government standards, says James Lalumandier, a Case Western Reserve professor of dentistry and one of the study's authors.
Dr. Lalumandier also said in the study that the trend toward bottled water may cause an increase in tooth decay. The use of fluoride in municipal water has been very successful in preventing tooth decay.
Some bottled waters contain adequate fluoride, he says, but because the FDA does not require manufacturers to include fluoride content on the label, consumers drinking bottled water do not know whether they are getting enough fluoride, inadequate fluoride or excessive fluoride, which can lead to discolored teeth.

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