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Why Bother With Bottled Water?

What you're getting for your money

Bottled water has become a major presence in the United States. Sales have shot up over 400 percent in the last 15 years to over $2.2 billion annually. There are 700 different regional brands and 75 imported brands available around the country, and Americans now guzzle two billion gallons of the stuff each year. Why do so many spend so much for something they can get from the tap for pennies?

It's mostly a matter of taste. A majority of those surveyed by the International Bottled Water Association in 1993 said that they consumed bottled water because it tastes better then tap water, a difference mostly attributable to different disinfecting agents. Most tap water is purified with chlorine, but the majority of bottled water is disinfected with ozone, which leaves no aftertaste or smell. Differing levels of minerals and sodium also affect the taste.

Others in the poll cited concerns about the quality of tap water, a legitimate fear in areas where municipal water purification is primitive or mismanaged and may have suffered contamination. Doctors also sometimes recommend bottled water to pregnant women and children when the local water supply has high nitrate levels.

Otherwise, bottled water is no healthier than tap water. Most health claims by bottled water distributors are really claims for the healthiness of bottled water as an alternative to soft drinks. So if water is your flavor, remember this: A recent study by the American Water Works Association says if you drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day, 1,000 gallons will provide an adequate supply for the next five years. The cost: $1.65.

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Updated on April 10, 1996