It's being called a "colossal fraud"
If you live in the Northeast, chances are good you've come across Poland Spring water. It has that signature hunter green label with illustrations of the great Maine wilderness. And the story of Poland Spring is a good one. According to company legend, the water in those bottles is 100 percent natural spring water, sourced from one of eight springs across the great state of Maine—including one down the road from Poland, ME, where the first of these springs was found in the late 19th century.
But according to a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Connecticut, the water's present-day sources aren't naturally flowing springs at all. The legal complaint against Poland Spring, filed against the brand's parent company Nestlé, states that "since it began selling the Poland Spring brand in 1993, [the Defendant] has bottled common groundwater and illegally mislabeled it as '100% Natural Spring Water.'"
In other words, that spring water isn't "collected from pristine mountains or forest springs as the images on those labels depict," alleges the lawsuit. Instead, it's allegedly regular old groundwater, collected a few feet from the surface in some of Maine's most populated counties.
The reason this is a legal issue rather than a semantic one is because in the United States, the definition of spring water is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. Spring water, according to the law, is "water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth," collected either at the natural source or through a manmade borehole, which is a fancy way of saying a deep, narrow hole that's drilled into the ground. Groundwater is not from a spring, so if Poland Spring is actually using groundwater but labeling it as spring water, that's defrauding the consumer. In fact, the folks bringing the lawsuit against Poland Spring are calling it a "colossal fraud."
A representative from Nestlé, which owns Poland Spring, told the Associated Press that the brand's "water meets all relevant federal and state regulations for spring water." The company even addresses the new lawsuit in their website's FAQ section, explaining, "This lawsuit seems to be an attempt to rehash an old debate about the proper use of the term 'spring water.' That debate was resolved in 1995 when the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued stringent standards for spring water," which includes the current legal definition of spring water. They continue, "We are confident in our legal position, and we will defend ourselves against the frivolous claims in this lawsuit."
But even if the lawsuit's claims end up being true and Poland Spring is proven to be groundwater and not true spring water, it's important to remember that groundwater isn't necessarily less-safe than spring water. In fact, if you're drinking tap water, there's a good chance you're drinking treated groundwater. According to the US Geological Survey, in 2005, 19 percent of all groundwater extracted that year was "used for public-supply purposes, mainly to supply drinking water to much of the nation's population." So, like, it's fine. After all, it's still bottled water.