Angela Logomasini

The news is depressing these days as people fear losing their homes or jobs and worry about family members deployed in military operations overseas. So what are members of Congress worried about? They fear the “grave” threats posed by--bottled water. Now that’s crazy.

Supposedly consumers are at risk from, or are being duped about, bottled water quality. Lawmakers think the solution is more detailed labeling mandates that include listing the traces of chemicals that water might contain.

We don’t ask other food producers to list every possible contaminant in their products. In fact, FDA regulations actually allow a certain level of impurities including rodent hairs, cockroach parts, and fly wings in foods like flour.

You don’t read that on the label. Why? Because absolute purity is impossible and unnecessary from a public health perspective.

And when you are talking about trace level chemicals in bottle water, it’s even more irrelevant. These contaminants exist at such low levels that they pose negligible risks, which is why FDA does not fuss over them.

Yet government officials rant and take up such “causes” to gather green political points. In this case, they enlisted the help of their very own “independent” research arm: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The same day of the hearings, GAO released a conveniently-timed, report on bottled water to buttress the lawmakers’ alarmism.

The GAO report recommends increased labeling of bottled water to report chemicals that appear in the parts-per-billion range. But GAO’s recommendation is a policy judgment. It is not supported with data proving that bottled water poses significant risks under current regulatory practices or that more bureaucratic reporting of essentially meaningless data would matter.

The GAO study did not assess bottled water’s safety. Instead it compared EPA regulations of tap water to FDA regulations of bottled water, which it found to be basically the same, except that FDA also applies food safety and packaging regulations. It suggested that FDA implementation was weaker than EPA, but it did not assess performance–the quality of bottled water verses tap.

Lawmakers used GAO value judgments to suggest that bottled water was no different than tap water and that it might even be less safe. As well documented in CEI’s study found on our consumer website, the facts do not support that contention.

Angela Logomasini

Angela Logomasini, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Competitive Enterprise Institute.