COLUMBIA, Mo. – Many Americans believe that bottled water is safer than household tap water, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

“Just because the water is said to come from some clear mountain stream doesn’t mean it is completely safe to drink,” said Bob Broz, University of Missouri Extension water quality specialist. “Who knows what a stream may pick up along the way?”

Many brands of bottled water actually contain water from municipal systems—the same stuff that comes out of a tap. That’s a good thing, Broz said.

Municipal tap water suppliers must test their water through certified labs and are required to tell their customers within 24 hours if contaminants exceed federal levels, he said. Municipal water suppliers provide customers with annual reports that detail the sources of water and any contamination found.

Federal water-quality standards for bottled water are similar to those for municipal water, but bottled-water distributors don’t face the same stringent testing and reporting requirements.

While most of the national brands do a good job of meeting federal regulations for water quality, some brands of bottled water have been recalled in recent years due to contamination by arsenic, bromate, cleaning compounds, mold and bacteria, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

The Environmental Working Group surveyed bottled-water labels and Web sites and found that just two of the 188 bottled-water companies surveyed provided customers with information on the source of their water, the manner in which it was treated and any contaminants present.

Most consumers buy bottled water for the convenience and taste. “Look at the price of bottled water compared to federally approved tap water, and the carbon footprint created to produce bottled water, and ask if it is financially and environmentally sound to use bottled water,” Broz said.