Key Differences Between EPA Tap Water and FDA Bottled Water Rules

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Water TypeDisinfection Required?Confirmed E. Coli & Fecal Coliform Banned?Testing Frequency for Bacteria?Must Filter to Remove Pathogens, or Have Strictly Protected Source? Must Test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Viruses?Testing Frequency for Most Synthetic Organic Chemicals? Operator Must be Trained & Certified?Must Test for and Meet Standards for Asbestos & Phthalate?Must Use Certified Labs to Do Testing?Must Report Violations to State, Feds?Consumer Right to Know About Contamination?
Bottled WaterNoNo1/weekNoaNo1/yearNoNoNoNoNo
Carbonated or Seltzer WaterNoNoNoneNoNoNoneNoNoNoNoNo
Big Cityb Tap Water (using surface water)YesYesHundreds/ monthYesYes1/quarter
(limited waivers available if clean source)
Yesc Yes (though limited waivers available if clean source)YesYesYes
Small Townd Tap Water (using a well)No
(though new rule in 2002 will require if needed)
(unless subject to surface contamination)
No1/quarter (waivers available if clean source) YescYes (though waivers available if clean source)YesYesYes

a. FDA requires state or local approval of bottled water sources, but there is no federal definition or control of what may be a bottled water source; the FDA "approved source" requirement thus has been called a "regulatory mirage."

b. Big city refers to city system serving 100,000 people or more. A big city using only wells would have to comply with all requirements noted for a surface water-supplied city, except that if its wells were not under the influence of surface water, it currently would not have to disinfect, filter, or test for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, or viruses. A new rule for such groundwater-supplied systems must be issued in 2002, which may require some cities using wells to disinfect or filter and do additional microbial monitoring.

c. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 require states, subject to EPA guidelines, to train and certify operators of all public water systems. EPA's rules to implement this provision are required to be issued by February 1999.

d. Small town refers to a town of 20,000 people. Such a small town using surface water would have to comply with all the same requirements noted for a large city using surface water, except the monitoring frequency for coliform would be 20/month, and there currently are no Cryptosporidium, Giardia, or virus monitoring requirements for small towns.

Source: NRDC