Is your bottled water safe?

Do you think the bottled water you buy at your local supermarket is safe and healthy? Do you check where it comes from? Don't you think you are being ripped off?

Do you think the bottled water you buy at your local supermarket is safe and healthy? Do you check where it comes from? Don't you think you are being ripped off?

The National Consumer Forum (NCF) warns against being misled that the bottled water is healthy just because it comes from a respected retailer.

The NCF is urging you, the consumer, to be cautious when buying bottled water, and to check whether the label indicates clearly where the source of the water is .

The organisation's chairman Thami Bolani, says, apart from you being ripped off, you may also be threatening your health and the environment.

Bolani says in the US, public pressure is mounting to force powerful corporations to disclose the source of their bottled water.

This is after research indicated that up to 40percent of bottled water is sourced from tap water.

Bolani says even the country's leading brand, Pepsi's Aquafina, was found to use tap water as its source. This was despite the Aquafina label showing an image of snow-capped mountains and the words "pure water, perfect taste".

Consumer pressure has now forced Pepsi to change its label to include the words "Public Water Source" so that buyers know where it comes from.

Bolani says public pressure became so high that the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, banned city spending on bottled water.

The US conference of mayors adopted a resolution highlighting the importance of public water systems and the negative effect of bottled water.

In the US some consumers are already paying a staggering 3000percent premium on water by buying it in bottles instead of drinking it from their taps, explains Bolani.

He said were this to be the case in South Africa, you would be paying a thousand times more for the water in a 500ml bottle than you do from your tap.

Bolani says the NCF is calling on bottled water suppliers to come clean about where their water is sourced and to make this information available, both in their marketing campaigns and on their labels.

"We suspect there is a similar trend in our own country to what is happening in the US," says Bolani.

"Business sees an opportunity for a quick buck, and there are dozens of companies jumping on the bandwagon."

Bolani says being as fashion-conscious and status-loving as they are, South Africans have easily taken to buying bottled water, even though they have no need.

"And if the US, with all its consumer protection laws, has a problem in ensuring the honesty of suppliers, then we are going to have to be extra vigilant in our country."

He also urged government's consumer protection agencies to be vigilant about the possible abuse of consumer rights when it comes to bottled water, calling for standards to be enforced in this industry.

"Water bottling is one of the recently regulated industries in the US, but is much less regulated than public tap water supplies," according to US lobby group Corporate Accountability International.

Studies even show that bottled water is no safer than tap water, and can sometimes be less safe, containing elevated levels of arsenic, bacteria and other contaminants, adds the accountability body.

Bottled water also leaves a huge carbon footprint, according to the Pacific Institute.

Making bottles to meet demand for bottled water in the US required more than 17million barrels of oil a year - enough fuel for more than 1million US cars for a year - and generated more than 2,5million tons of carbon dioxide.

There is also a negative effect on communities around the world and their immediate environments, says Corporate Accountability: "Bottlers extract water in huge amounts from local springs and aquifers, potentially drying up wells and springs or depleting wetlands and draining rivers, with serious impacts on the ecosystems."

Describing sustainable access to water as a basic consumer right, Consumers International (CI) believes that by bottling this resource to sell back to the consumer, corporations, such as Coca-Cola, have created an industry worth more than R600billion at a time when abillion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water.

"Making profits out of increasingly fragile water supplies is unsustainable, irresponsible and against the basic rights of consumers everywhere," said the CI.