Natural Mineral Water

Changed on: 19.01.2016

Differences in "Water" according to the Austrian Food Code

Water intended for human consumption, which can be drunk without risk, is colloquially called drinking water. In addition, the legislator makes the following differentiations: natural mineral water, spring water, table water and bottled drinking water. (Definitions bottled water – Ministry of Health)

Requirements for Natural Mineral Water

Glas Leitungswasser

“Natural mineral water” is clear water from a specially protected water deposit. It must not be disinfected and may not undergo any treatment the legislator has provided for drinking water. Thus, natural mineral water is very clean by nature. Unfortunately, this does not mean that there no man-made substances found in the water. As a result, legislation prescribes maximum levels for defined chemical substances, such as pesticides, that must not be exceeded.

Natural mineral water not meeting these requirements may not be marketed under this name. Natural mineral water that meets all of the required criteria must first be approved by the Federal Ministry of Health - the Austrian authority for mineral water – before it can be marketed. The Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) has been commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health to carry out regular inspections at Austria’s mineral water companies, together with the local food safety agencies.

Contamination of Natural Mineral Water

Natural mineral water is a product of the water cycle, which means that it is rain water that has been both enriched with minerals and cleaned thanks to many years of filtering through soil and rock layers. Some Austrian mineral water deposits are found up to 200 and more metres below the Earth’s surface. Mineral water contains all the natural elements of water (minerals and trace elements, also natural radionucleids and heavy metals), but also foreign substances, which are substances or derivates (through chemical or organic degradation) that get into the water as the result of human activities.

Contamination could have many reasons, beginning with poor well building (surface water infiltrates through the borehole), contamination during bottling, (e.g. anticorrosive), infiltration via agricultural land (infiltrated through sediment layers over decades), industrial and household chemicals, pharmaceutical substances and food ingredients and additives, as well as contaminated sites -- e.g. artificial radionucleids (cause: stratospheric nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s).

Official Tests for Natural Mineral Water

Mann steht in einem See und begutachtet eine Wasserprobe
Mann steht in einem See und begutachtet eine Wasserprobe

Natural mineral water is one of the most strictly tested foods in the EU with a fixed test scope and tight examination cycles prescribed by the legislator, in particular for mineral water spring operators.

More and more individual substances can be measured at increasingly smaller levels, thanks to progress made in analytical measurement procedures. Substances that were “invisible” analytically a few years ago can now be identified reliably in minute quantities. As a result, the legislator must specify maximum levels for defined contaminants. A maximum level defines the maximum amount of a substance that may be identified in a food and to which a food is still considered safe. This does not automatically mean that a tiny transgression of a maximum level poses a risk to human health, as these values are defined taking a safety margin into consideration.

The Austrian Food Code (Code Chapter B1 and Chapter B17) lists the relevant examination parameters for the purity/cleanliness of the water. It also lists parameters for foreign substances (contamination caused by man), such as metabolites (degradation or transformation products of substances in pesticides), in addition to those for natural substances.

[Translate to English:] Bewertung von Pflanzenschutzmittel-Rückständen

Blatt mit Wassertropfen

Evaluation of Pesticide Residues
Risk evaluation for pesticide substances and their degradation and reaction products (metabolites) not only encompasses the risks to humans and the environment, but also their mobility and the danger of infiltrating groundwater. The classification of the metabolites in “relevant” or “non-relevant” is also conducted as part of this examination.
Those substance residues that have comparable properties to those of the parent substance in terms of their biological/pesticide activity or that endanger the health of humans and animals or the groundwater and any groundwater-dependent ecosystems due to their toxic or ecotoxic properties are “relevant” in ground and drinking water. If a metabolite does not show any of these properties, it can be classified as “non-relevant” and is considered an undesired substance in the drinking water.

The European Commission has developed a guide for the assessment of the relevance of metabolites in groundwater. Link to the guide

The requirements for the authorisation of plant protection products state that substances and relevant metabolites in the groundwater must not exceed a maximum level of 0.1 μg/l. This means that any pesticide that can be identified analytically, but lies below 0.1 μg/l is not harmful to our health and the environment from today’s scientific point of view. There are different maximum levels for non-relevant metabolites in the guide (mostly between 0.75 μg/l and 10 μg/l).

Risk Evaluation of Non-Relevant Metabolites

A concentration level limit for non-relevant metabolites in drinking water (action level) is recommended as a precaution. If these levels are exceeded, the cause must be identified and it must be determined which measures are to be carried out to restore the excellent water quality. These action levels are also valid for natural mineral water. They are based on recommendations in the guide published by the European Commission and on the basis of  scientific and professional data provided as part of the EU evaluation of active substances.