The UK soft drinks industry has hit back at a report that claims that bottled water products on sale in the country could harm the environment and the health of consumers.

The British Soft Drinks Association dismissed a report from the campaign group Sustain that claims bottled water contains ingredients including excess sodium and benzene. The report, entitled "Have You Bottled It?" also argues that PET bottles cause pollution.

However, a spokesman for the BSDA said the report contained "serious factual errors" and was based on "very thin arguments".

The spokesman said today (3 January): "Bottled waters strictly conform to the very highest standards in hygiene, provenance and sustainability.

"They also offer the ultimate in traceability, health, convenience and choice, as well as providing reassurance that they come from fully sustainable sources."

Bottled water sales have rocketed in the UK in recent years and rose by around 10% in 2006. Sustain said marketing encourages consumers to buy bottled water instead of drinking water from the tap.

"The product is also promoted heavily to 15- to 34-year-old women and has become a 'must have' fashion accessory," the campaign group said. However, it added: "Not only are there no convincing health reasons for preferring bottled water to tap water, there are some health concerns about bottled water.

Sustain said politicians in France had advised the country's consumers to change brands frequently because "the minerals in particular brands may be harmful in high doses, if consumed over a long period".

Sustain also claims that PET bottles are damaging the environment, arguing it is "possible" that toxic chemicals "may migrate out of the plastic product and into whatever it is in contact with".

However, the BSDA insisted that there are "strict rules" on packaging and the use of natural resources.

"There are strict rules on how the bottled water industry may work which keep the industry's environmental impact to a minimum," the spokesman said. "The very foundation of the industry is the protection of a precious natural resource and its use in a sustainable manner, and that ethos is applied in every aspect of the work of the industry."