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Do you know where your bottled water comes from?

Artesian, spring, purified, and sparkling waters may be treated differently or come from different places

Consumer Reports magazine: July 2012

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Sales of bottled water are on the rise, increasing 2 percent, to $7.8 billion, from August 2010 to August 2011 in supermarkets, drugstores, gas and convenience stores, and mass merchants (excluding Walmart), according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market-research company.

If you're going to pay for a product you could get for free, it helps to know what you're buying, so below you'll find a water glossary. Along with the information that follows, note that you may see “glacier water” and “mountain water” on bottles, but there's no standard definition for those terms.

Whatever the bottle says, don't be misled by crisp blue labels and pictures of mountains. Forty-seven percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is tap water that's been purified, according to data from the Beverage Marketing Association, a trade group. If you're concerned about the water quality in your area but don't want to pay for bottled water, check out our review of water filters.

 

Artesian

Water obtained from a well that taps a confined aquifer, an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water. Example: Fiji Natural Artesian Water.

Distilled

Water that has been boiled and then recondensed from the steam that the boiling produces. Distillation kills microbes and removes minerals, giving water a flat taste. Example: Glacéau Smartwater.

Mineral

Groundwater that naturally contains at least 250 parts per million of dissolved solids. All minerals and other trace elements must be present in the water when it emerges at the source. Example: Calistoga.

P.W.S.

Public water source, also known as municipal water supply, or tap water. Fun fact: Aquafina, one of the top 10 selling domestic brands, used to say “P.W.S.” on its label—but changed that in 2007 under pressure from Corporate Accountability International to make clear that the water came from a public supply and not some pristine mountain spring called P.W.S.

Purified

Water from any source that has been treated to remove chemicals and pathogens according to standards set by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Must contain no more than 10 parts per million of dissolved solids. Distillation, deionization, and reverse osmosis are all purification methods. Examples: Aquafina, Dasani.

Sparkling

Water that contains carbon dioxide at an amount equal to what it contained when it emerged from its source. Carbon dioxide lost during the treatment process may be added back. (Carbonated waters such as soda water and seltzer are considered soft drinks, not bottled waters.) Example: Perrier.

Spring

Water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the Earth’s surface. Spring water must be collected at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation (aquifer) feeding the spring. Examples: Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water (Nestlé), Evian.

Editor's Note: A version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Talk the Talk: Bottled Water."
   

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