ATLANTIC CITY - Atlantic City High School students lined up to drink water Thursday to see whether they could tell the difference between bottled water and tap water from the school fountains.

Students had difficulty doing so, and the test reinforced the intended message that tap water is the better choice.

"(Drinking tap water) saves money and helps the environment," said senior Samuel Goldberg, 18, of Ventnor. "Some bottled water is just tap water."

The taste test was organized by students in Regina Banner's Advanced Placement environment class after they watched a documentary called "Flow" about global water availability. Banner researched watchdog organization Corporate Accountability International, as well as a "tap water challenge" the students decided to try. They bought Poland Spring and Dasani bottled water, and got water from the school fountains to pour into tiny paper cups. For good measure, they blindfolded participating students.

Then, wearing hand-painted T-shirts that read, "Think outside the bottle" and "Think globally, drink locally," they set up two tables in the school cafeteria and invited students to drink up. They even offered a few prizes, including reusable water bottles.

The overall sentiment among students was that they could not taste a difference between bottled and tap.

Junior Lorenzo Smith, 17, of Atlantic City, drank his first tiny cup of water, then the second cup and the third.

"They all taste the same," he said. "You have to really work at it to notice any difference."

When pressed to pick one, he chose Dasani, not his usual water of choice.

"I usually drink Poland Spring because that's what we have at home," he said.

"It's just a habit now to carry a bottle of water," said Brianna Husta, 17, a junior from Brigantine.

"But I am seeing more students carrying refillable bottles," said junior Nasir Khan, 17, of Atlantic City. "Water is so overpriced in the vending machines. If you carry a bottle, you can refill it in the water fountain."

Students posted a huge "Use Me" sign over the water fountain in the cafeteria.

By the end of lunch, 280 students had taken the taste test. Students in Joe Costello's Advanced Placement statistics class tallied the results and found 37 percent chose the tap water as their favorite, followed by 34 percent for Poland Spring and 29 percent for Dasani. They concluded that students favored tap water, but not significantly.

The students plan to make a chart showing their results to post in the cafeteria. Banner said next year she may add "no difference" to the choices since so many students had a hard time picking one type of water they preferred.

Neil Goldfine, executive director of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, said the one major advantage of bottled water is that it has the large marketing budget of huge parent corporations such as Coca-Cola.

He said water-research group American Water Works has an "Only Tap Delivers" campaign but cannot match the advertising budgets of corporations.

"Tap water does need a marketing campaign," he said.

He said the tap-water industry is far more regulated than that of bottled water, so the public should not assume that bottled water is safer.

"It's just about convenience," he said.

Atlantic City's tap water has placed in the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Awards, taking the gold medal in 1992 and 1993, and placing fifth in 2001. The city's water also has been credited for contributing to the distinctive taste and texture of city-baked bread.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241