Turn on the tap and the water’s practically free — and regulated for safety too. Pay top dollar for bottled water, and you’ll likely get mystery water — with little to no information about where that water comes from, how pure it is, or what contaminants are in it.

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That’s why the Government Accountability Office and the eco-nonprofit Environmental Working Group are calling for stricter labeling standards for bottled water. Both groups brought the issue to a a subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

Why are tap water and bottled water regulated so differently? The former’s regulated by the Environmental Protection agency, which requires a lot more testing than the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that regulates bottled water and has little authority to enforce standards. For example, the FDA hasn’t even set standards for phthalates known as DEHP, while the EPA “limits the presence of phthalates in tap water,” according to the Associated Press.

To find out where your tap water comes from and how healthy it is, all you have to do is read through your water utility’s mandatory annual reports. Bottled water companies, however, don’t need to disclose such info. In fact, out of 188 individual bottled water brands EWG studied, only 2 of the brands revealed this info on their labels or websites.

This lack of information’s especially disturbing since bottled water isn’t safer or cleaner than tap water. An earlier EWG study revealed that “38 pollutants, ranging from fertilizer residue to industrial solvents” in 10 major bottled water brands identified. “Pollutants in 2 brands exceeded some state and industry health standards.”

The good news? After many years of growth, bottled water sales have been stagnant this year. And in California, bottled water companies have been required to provide on their websites information about their water source, treatment, and testing since the beginning of this year. A similar bill in the senate could require the same disclosure at the federal level.

For now, you can look up how well a brand of bottled water stood up to EWG’s tests on the Bottled Water Scorecard. Of course, the best option’s to drink filtered tap water — BYOB (Bring Your Own (reusable) Bottle)!

Photo: Muffet / Flickr

What's in your bottled water?
Bottled water's a lot less regulated -- but not necessarily any safer -- than tap water.