Is bottled water better than Cleveland's tap water? Not really.

Is bottled water better than Cleveland's tap water? Not really.
Rebecca Bailey, the manager of inorganic testing at CWM Cleveland, explains the testing process to Cleveland 19. (Source: WOIO)
Rebecca Bailey, the manager of inorganic testing at CWM Cleveland, explains the testing process to Cleveland 19. (Source: WOIO)
The city and bottle water samples removed from their original containers and put in uniform containers for testing. (Source: WOIO)
The city and bottle water samples removed from their original containers and put in uniform containers for testing. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - After testing the city of Cleveland's water against six different types of bottled water, it turns out there isn't much of a difference in the product or any safety concerns with the quality of the water. One difference is cost, though.

I went to a play group for young children and parents to talk to parents about what type of water they prefer, and why.

"In some ways I would say bottled water [is safer] but I think that the tap water they've filtered things out, and added good minerals and what not so I'm OK with tap water," said Amanda Jentzen.

Her thoughts were echoed by several other parents in the play group.

"I choose bottled water due to the fact that I'm pregnant and I'm really be careful what I drink," said Denise Lowe Evans. She said with breastfeeding as a consideration, she thought drinking bottled water was the best option.

Each type of bottled water was significantly more expensive than Cleveland Municipal water, but I wanted to know if more money means the water is safer.

I compared Aquafina, Dasani, Smart Water, Fiji water and the house brands at Giant Eagle and Target to Cleveland Municipal water.

The samples were sent to CWM Laboratories in Cleveland, a company that has a special certification from the EPA to test public drinking water.

CWM Laboratories is in no way connected to the city of Cleveland and had no reason to make Cleveland Water look any better than it is.

"There's no influence they have their own lab system so I'm not looking for business," said Ron Gribik, the vice president of operations of CWM Cleveland.

The lab came up with a uniform list of things to test for in the different types of water: levels of lead, copper, bacteria and nitrates.

The basis of that list came from the city's water quality report, which requires the municipal system to test for, and report, certain things. Municipal drinking water is regulated more strictly than bottled water is. City water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act, and bottled water is regulated as a food by the Food and Drug Administration.

The city of Cleveland's water system also has to clean water from Lake Erie, filter and distribute it through thousands of miles of pipes to serve more than a million people. Bottled water likely starts with a leg up, some of the packaging states the bottled water starts from a municipal source or a mountain spring.

"They're starting ahead. You're obviously not going to go out in Lake Erie and take a glass full of water and drink it," said Gribik.

CWM took the sample of the city water to make sure it didn't get accidentally contaminated while being collected.

All of the samples, both municipal and bottled water, were well below the EPA standards for lead.

Market Pantry from Target, Giant Eagle water, Smart Water and Fiji Water all had non-detectable lead levels. The city's water, Dasani and Aquafina each had tiny levels of lead that were still below the EPA's limit.

Aquafina water tested contained .189 parts per billion of lead, Dasani water contained .074 parts per billion of lead and the city had.317 parts per billion of lead, according to the lab's results. Each of those results are significantly less than a drop of water, and well below the EPA standard of 15 parts per billion allowed in drinking water.

Sean Buxton, a technician at CWM who tests for heavy metals, said a consumer can't tell without a specific test if water contains lead.

"You could have a dirty sample that has no lead you could have a sample that looks really clean to you that is hazardous for lead there's really no way to know without testing," said Buxton.

The water was also tested for bacteria, copper and nitrates and the results of those tests were basically the same as the lead test. If there was any detectable level of any of the potential contaminants it was well below the EPA limits.

"The bottom line is the results are, simply I can put, is the water is safe. All the bottled waters were safe and the city water was safe," said Gribik.

"I think you can be at ease using tap water saving money," Rebecca Bailey, another technician at CWM who tested for inorganic compounds in the water, said. Bailey herself is a new mom who uses tap water for her child.

I presented the results of the tests to the parents in the playgroup. The results confirmed what most of the parents already thought -- that tap water is just as safe, but it was a little extra peace of mind.

"I just chose tap but that's extra confirmation that makes me feel good," said Jentzen.

The results did change Lowe Evans' mind. The breast feeding mother said she will now switch to tap.

"I'll stay with tap cause bottled water costs a lot of money and I have two kids and my husband," said Lowe Evans.

The cost is also an obvious concern.

For customers of the city of Cleveland water, a gallon costs at most about half a penny.  For the bottled water Cleveland 19 tested the price ranged from $6.40 a gallon to $10.24 per gallon.

Cleveland 19 reached out to Cleveland Water for a comment on the results. Officials provided the following statement: 

At Cleveland Water, the safety of our customers is our top priority. That is why we work hard to deliver a reliable supply of safe, great tasting drinking water to more than 1.4 million people across Northeast Ohio. The test results reported by Channel 19 are consistent with our internal testing, and confirms something that we take great pride in – Cleveland Water delivers drinking water that meets and exceeds all Federal and State standards at an affordable price.

Our customers should rest assured the water we deliver to their home is safe from a variety of contaminants – including lead, bacteria, harmful algal toxins, and many others. Our treatment process is optimized to remove risks and we constantly monitor and test our water to make sure it safely provides the refreshing product our customers count on.

Additionally, the cost difference between Cleveland Water and bottled water cannot be understated. If a person drinks eight glasses per day, it could cost them upwards of $1,500 or more per year if they bought bottled water. That same amount of water from the tap would cost less than $1 per year in the city of Cleveland.

For more information on the quality of Cleveland Water, we encourage people to subscribe to our blog at www.clevelandwater.com/news or download our most recent Water Quality Report at www.clevelandwater.com/2015WQR. The 2016 Water Quality Report should be available in March.

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