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July 30, 2007

Aquafina: Unearths Its Source

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:59 am

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Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


AquafinaFor years, Americans have been buying bottled water for convenience, improved taste, and its perceived health benefits compared to tap water. We spend more on bottled water per gallon than we do on gasoline.

The biggest selling brand of bottled water is Aquafina made by Pepsico. From the look of the bottle with snow capped mountains, one would think the source of the water is some lovely, quiet stream or underground springs in the Alps. Not so.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Aquafina pws

Tucked at the bottom of the label of some bottles of Aquafina (others have no disclosure) are the words “Bottled At The Source P.W.S.”  Most people would have no idea what P.W.S. stands for, and that was probably the way Pepsi wanted it.

It actually means “Public Water Supply,” in other words, tap water. That’s right Aquafina gets its water from the tap, puts it through a seven-step purification process, pumps it into bottles that some say harm the environment, and charges you a fortune.

With some prodding from a consumer group, Pepsico announced last Friday it was going to come clean on the Aquafina label and say what P.W.S. stands for. Coke on the other, the maker of Dasani bottled water, has had no similar change of heart about disclosing that its purified water comes from the tap too.

None of this is meant to speak ill of tap water, that repeated tests have shown is generally safe and tasty to drink in most communities. In fact, expert wine tasters did a blind taste test of tap water from cities around the country, and recently named the tap water from Salt Lake City, Boston, and Columbia, SC as the best tasting.

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34 Comments

  1. It doesn’t help that the press is always happy to scare people about tap water. There is a current scandal in Washington, DC and Ohio press keeps stressing the fact that mercury related birth-defects are significantly higher in Ohio than in other states.

    Comment by Jasper — July 30, 2007 @ 9:13 am
  2. Have you ever tasted Central Florida tap water? If so, you’d gladdly pay the very reasonalbe price Aquafina charges to “purify” it and take the donkey breath taste out ot if. I’ve never been under the impression myself that Aquafina, Dasani or any other bottled water is anything other than purified tap water unless it is specifically stated on the label as bottled spring water or something to that effect. I think the high popularity of bottled water has more to do with its portability than anything else. You can’t take your kitchen tap with you, but bottles of water can be frozen, taken on a day long hike and you can still expect to have a nice cold sip of water toward the end of the day. It’s really all about paying for convenience.

    Comment by shawn — July 30, 2007 @ 9:34 am
  3. I’ve always thought bottled water was a senseless waste of money. Ever notice how another brand,
    Evian, is naive spelled backwards?

    Comment by John A Elson — July 30, 2007 @ 9:38 am
  4. But let us not forget that even though it comes from the city water supply, after that they purify it, to remove all the nastiest and to make it pure.

    Comment by J Bartholomew — July 30, 2007 @ 9:58 am
  5. And #2 Dasani, from Coca Cola, is the same. Municipal tap water, sold in bottles for our convenience. In fact, almost 1/4 of the bottled water we buy is repackaged tap water from Coco Cola or PepsiCo.
    http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/117/features-message-in-a-bottle.html

    We’re not really that bright as consumers, are we?

    Comment by Chris Hajer — July 30, 2007 @ 10:05 am
  6. Besides a water filter in my fridge, I installed an inline filter in my cold water supply in the kitchen. If I have to take water with me I fill a reusable thermos which keeps it cold.
    I worked in one place that used water coolers with the five gallon water bottles on it. I once passed the place that delivered the bottles and they were filling them with a water hose attached to the city water supply.

    Comment by Jerry Levine — July 30, 2007 @ 10:36 am
  7. I buy bottled water for the convenience. My three daughters are always thirsty and water is a better alternative to drinking pop and juice, especially when you are on the go all of the time. However, I do refill the water bottles that I purchase and put them in the fridge or freezer for later use. When the bottles get to the point where they are too old then I recycle them and buy more.

    Comment by Leslie Casadonte — July 30, 2007 @ 10:55 am
  8. People are odd. They think that because water comes from a tap, it’s not as good as
    water from another source. Not necessarily. Under federal law, a company selling water is allowed to have contaminants in the water so long as they don’t exceed FEDERAL standards. For example, benzene, a carcinogenic constituent of gasoline has a drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion. That means unless you exceed that limit, the US Government says the water is ok to drink and you are not required to report it’s presence.

    However public water suppliers in many some states including Massachusetts often have a stricter drinking water standards than the feds AND are required to publically report the presence of ANY
    contaminants even if they don’t exceed a drinking water standard. So if Coca Cola got
    it’s water from the “snowy mountains” in a state that only used federal standards,
    and it contained less than 5 ppb benzene, they could still market the water and not be required to report the contamination. In Ayer, MA howerver, the water supplier would be required by law to report it’s presence.

    I’m not defending Cokes advertising practices because the depicting snowy mountains
    leads the consumer to think they are the source. However getting bottled water from a “PWS” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    Comment by Mark701 — July 30, 2007 @ 11:04 am
  9. Just a quick caveat to my comment above. All water suppliers are required to test drinking water
    for specfic organic compounds and metals. However, since there are literally thousands of potential
    contaminants, they only test for a relatively small group that are commonly found in the
    environment. This means that, even after filtering, there could still be contamination in your
    water no matter where you get it from.

    Some particularly nasty contaminants like dioxins, are produced “naturally” by burning wood. So I’d be careful about drinking out of that crystal clear pristine mountain stream if there’s been a forest fire in the area in the last couple of decades. Sorry, just a fact of life.

    Comment by Mark701 — July 30, 2007 @ 11:26 am
  10. I guess I’d rather have filtered public water source than melted mountain snow tainted with yellow from the bears.

    And I agree with shawn–central Florida water is terrible. Our San Diego water is almost as bad but doesn’t have the smell. I usually take my gallon jugs to the local water dispenser and pay 25-cents per gallon for much better tasting filtered water.

    And when I but bottled water, it’s usually a no-name brand that runs about $4 for a dozen 1-liter bottles, then I get to re-use the bottles with my 25-cent/gallon water.

    Comment by RS — July 30, 2007 @ 11:41 am
  11. It does say “purified” or “Filtered” water right on the bottle! Why is this “mouse print”?

    EDGAR REPLIES:  The mouse print is their use of P.W.S. in fine print without an explanation of what that stands for. They were trying to obscure the fact that their water came from the tap originally.

    Comment by ceej — July 30, 2007 @ 12:22 pm
  12. @ shawn: Ever thought of refilling used bottle with tap water? Or even better, fill an empty bottle with soda from a larger bottle. Ever noticed how the 16 oz bottles are $1.59, while the 2L bottles are just $1?

    Comment by Jasper — July 30, 2007 @ 1:43 pm
  13. Well, I live in DC and yeah, I will not drink the tap water. Having lived in the city for nearly 12 years and experienced the ongoing mismanagement of pretty much all public services including the public not being informed about water safety issues until sometimes months after the fact it would take a lot to convince me to trust the quality of the water here. I have much more trust in Pepsi’s purification process (7 steps I think I read?) then my elected officials..in fact maybe DC needs to hire them to come here and purify our water 😉

    Comment by bailey — July 30, 2007 @ 2:15 pm
  14. “Bottled at the source” – as if they could bottle it somewhere else?

    The mouse print is the PWS. However, they just announced that they are going to add some English language to the label stating “The Aquafina in this bottle is purified water that originates from a public water source,” or something similar.

    http://money.cnn.com/2007/07/27/news/companies/pepsi_coke/index.htm?postversion=2007072715

    Comment by Chris Hajer — July 30, 2007 @ 4:01 pm
  15. Of course it is public water. For a $1.00 a bottle anyone who thinks it is spring water or something ‘special’ is same person who believes those Nigerian Scam letters. I pay the $ for them to get out the chlorine and salt, and lime etc that my tap water is loaded with. I don’t want my water to taste like an iron pipe or a swamp.

    Comment by cheryl — July 30, 2007 @ 7:30 pm
  16. @ jasper: Nope. I’d rather pay to have Pepsi and Coke do it for me. I put all my used bottles in the recycle bin for the government contracted waste disposal service to come and remove from my place of residence. I love paying for products and services and contributing my fair share to this robust economy!

    Comment by shawn — July 31, 2007 @ 10:02 am
  17. @ bailey: or you buy a water filter for a couple of bucks and start saving on your water expenditures.

    How excessive has society become, that we pay for bottled water?

    or

    How poorly do we elect our officials, when they even can’t keep simple services like water running decently?

    or

    How many politicians does it take to turn tap water into a policy issue? Two, one republican and one democrat.

    Comment by Jasper — July 31, 2007 @ 10:09 am
  18. This whole bottled water phenomenon started a few years back when a “study” told us
    we needed to drink the equivalent of, I think, 6 glasses of water a day (hmm, study
    paid for by the bottled water industry, I dunno) so, being the good little
    automatons that we are, we eagerly followed. THEN, a little while later, it was
    “discovered” that we usually already get most of our water from within the foods
    we already eat. But, by this point, the pavlovians were already hooked.

    Comment by Dave — July 31, 2007 @ 10:39 am
  19. I had to laugh when I saw that label. I can tell you from three years direct experience that Ayer, Mass. public water, one of the many sources of Aquafina, is disgusting in both taste and smell. Before I moved to Ayer, I lived in the next town over, Littleton, which has a lengthy history of having one of the cleanest public water supplies in the state. The water there is so good you’d swear it tastes sweet.

    Ayer’s water, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of licking a rusty shovel: rusty, musty, and dusty are the three words that immediately spring to mind. I won’t even mention the rust stain that starts appearing in the bathroom bowl within a few days of each scrubbing with pumice. Three days after I moved to Ayer, I bought a Pur filter for the kitchen tap, strictly for cooking and coffee, and started buying Poland Spring in bulk for drinking.

    To be sure, the local bottler purifies the water further than the town does (if only to keep all that iron from clogging their equipment), but I can easily imagine what their used filters look and smell like. Blech.

    Comment by Mike Harney — August 2, 2007 @ 1:35 am
  20. I’m just wondering if the 7 step filtering removes the fluoride that is (at least in my country) added to the water to keep peoples’ teeth healthy.

    Comment by Drak — August 2, 2007 @ 7:50 am
  21. @ shawn: While I appreciate you keeping the economy moving, I really think there’s better tihngs to do with your money than supoorting the world’s largest companies. Plenty of economic activity in charity for instance. And that without drinking nasty water!

    Comment by Jasper — August 2, 2007 @ 9:08 am
  22. To be fair, it doesn’t claim to be spring water, it claims to be “purified water” which to me, means “water from God-knows-where”.

    I wouldn’t think that Aquafina or Dasani were spring water, as the word “spring” appears nowhere on either label.

    Comment by Carol — August 2, 2007 @ 4:36 pm
  23. To all those that feel paying for bottled “tap” water is a waste of money, please
    look into a process called “Reverse Osmosis.(RO)” This is one of the steps that
    Pepsico and Coca Cola use for “filtering” their water. I have worked in the water
    purification business for over 9 years and I have found that the filtration process
    these companies claim to use is actually quite involved. Also, they are required
    by federal law to use a process called Ultra-Violet Disinfection. This kills any
    bacteria that could had made it through the RO process. Trust me, I have no
    compunction about paying $1.25 or so for purified water. I can GUARANTEE it’s
    cleaner and safer that that mountain spring stuff from Poland Springs and such.

    Comment by Ryan — August 2, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
  24. @ Ryan: nobody disputes purified water is cleaner. The question is whether cleaner is better or necessary.

    As a matter of a fact, 100% pure water, H2O, should not be consumed. Oddly enough, it will dehydrate you.

    Comment by Jasper — August 3, 2007 @ 9:07 am
  25. @Jasper

    And what works do you cite for this claim?

    I for one will go with cleaner is better, The water in Indianapolis smells like it came out of the swimming pool.

    Comment by Chris — August 3, 2007 @ 1:21 pm
  26. @ jasper: when you start earning my money, then i’ll consider your opinion on how i should spend it!

    EDGAR REPLIES: Okay, folks. Comments that are not specifically about water labeling and advertising will not be approved for posting. This is not a message forum to debate the pros and cons of bottled water.

    Comment by shawn — August 3, 2007 @ 3:02 pm
  27. Why can’t towns just perform the same filtering on the PWS that Dasani and Aquafina do in their bottled waters? Would that not make infinately more sense. I’d pay an extra $20/mo on my water bill to have Dasani flow out of my tap – I spend way more than that each month on bottles of water.

    Comment by Chris — August 5, 2007 @ 2:59 pm
  28. Water at most municipalities is pretty good at the source. It’s the traveling through the mostly antique piping that causes it to become contaminated with who knows what. I’ve always known the difference between filtered and spring water and if others pay attention, they will note it on the labels also. I have no problem paying for filtered water, both for the convenience and the added purity. I do believe Pepsi could be more transparent in its labeling though, although to be fair, most companies are guilty of manipulating labeling on food and beverage products.

    Comment by Trina — August 6, 2007 @ 3:48 pm
  29. Very heated discussion. Here’s a twist…just wait until your local gov’t approves the toilet-to-tap concept because it will save lots of money…they claim the water is even better, but what happens when the gov’t beaurocracy breaks down as the filtering process does and you get that nice flow of bad chemicals and hormones that are not being filtered out?

    I have to wonder if bottled water companies will disclose that it comes from a water source that allows toilet-to-tap water…and how it filters that through its systems…?

    Comment by RS — August 6, 2007 @ 11:46 pm
  30. Coca-Cola tried to market their Dasani rubbish in the U.K. but fell at the first fence when their super-clean plant in Sidcup Kent fell foul of the old saying, “when in a hole, stop digging!”

    Coke apparently used purification and taste-enhancement chemistry to transform water into their expensive bottled water – in the process producing bromates, which are carcinogenic and forced the company to recall the water.

    They kept saying there was nothing wrong with the water, but tragedy struck when it was revealed that the source of their water was, in fact, straight from the tap!

    Comment by Mike Cunningham — August 14, 2007 @ 9:31 am
  31. Not every one is trying to hide the source of their bottled water. One of our local bottled water companies admits on the label that the spring water is from “a comunity water source”, i.e. tap water. That statement is in fine print. Our local river, the Rogue, originates from a spring in the Cascade Mountains, so technically the river, from which the city draws its water, is “spring water”. The spring just happens to be about 60 miles away.

    Comment by John Pursell — September 11, 2007 @ 5:41 pm
  32. Nashville is so proud of it’s water that it’s public education efforts include distribution of empty 16oz. bottles labeled “Pure Nashville,” subtitled “Cool Clean Refreshing” It wasn’t so cool, and, therefore, not so refreshing during our recent record heat wave and drought. But, the label does contain an instruction to “Fill with tap water and chill.”
    “Flouride Added” is shown in the fine print.

    Comment by Jeff Wells — September 20, 2007 @ 11:42 am
  33. everyone is acting like Aquafina got caught lying and everyone that drinks it has been duped. I have drinken Aquafina for years, and like MOST people who drink it, never had ANY illusions as to it’s source. Acting like Aquafina IS tap water because it’s FROM tap water is like saying tap water IS toilet water because it’s FROM toilet water. Both show a complete ignorance of water purification processes, one making tap water from toilet water and one making purified drinking water from tap water. Tap water is not put through a reverse osmosis process like Aquafina; if it were, then Aquafina would be tap water, but it’s not and you have to pay a cost for your water to be purified beyond the standard minimums regulated by the government (and to remove the chemicals they dumped in to make it safe enough to drink to begin with). This was a huge non-news event. Everyone that was buying Aquafina will keep on buying Aquafina, so I guess the only ones who care are the ones drinking the toilet water.

    Comment by Steve Carmer — November 9, 2007 @ 7:54 pm
  34. It’s sad we can’t get clean, safe tap water to drink. I filter my water at home. I don’t have a reverse
    osmosis unit but it does a decent job. Reverse osmosis is the best way to go. It takes out virtually
    eveything. Look (Google)it up and see for yourselves. They just started putting CLoramines in my tap water so I can’t fill my fish tank up with it. Now I use filtered water for it.

    Comment by Ray — May 2, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

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