Bottled water from the British Isles

Bottled waters from the British Isles

BGS has been analysing the inorganic chemistry of bottled water (natural mineral water and spring water) from the British Isles. Bottles of water were purchased from retail outlets across the British Isles and analysed for major ions and a comprehensive suite of trace elements by combined ICP-OES, ICP-MS, atomic fluorescence spectroscopy and ion chromatography in the BGS GeoEnvironmental Laboratories. Water was analysed from 85 bottles which derive from 67 groundwater sources across the British Isles.

Survey findings

Cumulative frequency of antimony (Sb) in British bottled water compared to in-situ groundwater

Results from the chemical analyses showed that:

  • concentrations of all determinands complied with European and national limits for bottled natural mineral water and spring water
  • despite the name 'mineral waters', most British bottled waters have low concentrations of dissolved solids (the observed total dissolved solids range was 58–800 mg/L), particularly compared to many European bottled waters
  • a small minority had concentrations of uranium (U) close to the WHO provisional guideline value for drinking water of 15 μg/L (no European or national limit currently exists for uranium)
  • two samples of spring water had concentrations of barium (Ba) which would have exceeded the European standard had they been classed as natural mineral water, although no such standard exists for barium in spring water
  • concentrations of antimony (Sb) were found to be significantly higher in waters contained in PET plastic bottles than in waters contained in glass. They were also significantly higher than concentrations of antimony found in raw groundwaters sampled directly from groundwater sources in comparable aquifers. The source of the higher concentrations of antimony is likely to be from the bottle manufacturing process. In no cases however, did they exceed the European and national limit for antimony in spring water or natural mineral water (5 μg/L)
  • a number of trace metals (Al, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, and Zn) had much lower concentrations than those found in groundwaters derived directly from the corresponding aquifers, an observation consistent with removal by treatment (e.g. aeration, settling, filtration) in the bottling process

The comparisons between bottled water compositions and groundwaters from the corresponding aquifers suggest that the major ions are for the most part similar and representative of the compositions of in-situ groundwaters. For many of the trace elements however, compositions have been modified significantly from in-situ compositions by treatment and contamination from bottle materials.

Further information

Smedley, P.L. 2010. A survey of the inorganic chemistry of bottled mineral waters from the British Isles. Applied Geochemistry, 25, 1872-1888. (Analyses listed in Supplementary Data).


Please contact Dr Pauline Smedley for further information