Amount spent by Canadians on bottled water each year: more than half a billion dollars
Frequency with which water-bottling plants are inspected to check for bacteria and contamination: once every 12 to 18 months, often less
Percentage of bottled water on Canadian market tested in the 90s with bacteria above recommended government limits: between 30 and 40
SCARY BUT TRUE
No licence is required for the sale of bottled water in Canada.
Apart from arsenic and lead, current regs don't contain specific detailed parameters for chemical and radiological contaminants in bottled water.
Responsibility for microbial testing lies with bottled water manufacturers.
There are no government requirements on the frequency with which bottlers must test their water.
Dasani Name suggests pureness and refreshment, but it's actually tap water enhanced with minerals. Made by Coke.
Aquafina America's number-one seller. Marketed as "So pure, we promise nothing." Good thing, too, since it's filtered tap water. Made by Pepsi.
Brands found to have higher-than-recommended levels of arsenic in 1997-1999 study by the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): Volvic Natural Spring Water, Vittel Mineral Water, Appollinaris Sparkling Mineral Water
Brand found to have elevated levels of phthalate, a possible endocrine system disrupter, in NRDC study: Perrier Sparkling Mineral Water (NRDC study also found higher-than-recommended levels of nitrate, indicating "human-caused nitrate contamination of water." )
Brand found to have higher-than-recommended levels of bacteria in NRDC study: Dannon Natural Spring Water
LABELS THAT LIE
Many "natural spring water" products have actually been ozonated, which means they've been disinfected to remove bacteria.
"Natural mineral water" that's been carbonated is not "natural" at all, since carbonation is usually added to remove contaminants.
Check the label for actual water source. Some "natural spring water" products are nothing more than filtered tap water.
Be wary of products without lot numbers or expiry dates, or with expiry dates of more than two years. Most bottled water has a maximum shelf life of one year.
WHAT THE FEDS SAYS
Under the current regime, "We have not taken any enforcement action in a long while. We're more concerned with new products on the market and the need for more clarity in labelling. We have had some instances where we had to ask some people for more information, but it's certainly not an area where we've had to put our foot down."
Alain Charette, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"There are a lot of issues that are not being dealt with. The industry is growing by 20 per cent a year, which raises the question of where are all these water sources. Companies like Coke are now plugging into municipal water systems. Who's paying for the deterioration of those systems? And whose interest takes precedence when there's a water shortage? Our money should be going to providing really good public water systems."
Jamie Dunn, Council of Canadians
What new regs will do
Establish new, more rigorous testing and sampling methodologies.
Include standards for Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a disease-causing organism) and bromate (a by-product of ozone use).
Impose stricter limits on microbiological and chemical contaminants.
Limit the variety of common names that can be used to describe bottled water products.The bottled water we're guzzling is supposed to be better than the stuff coming out of the tap. But how are we to know when labels lie and the feds are only now dreaming up tighter regs? Hard to swallow.