Arsenic found in 11 bottled water brands, Consumer Reports says


Dive Brief:

  • Out of 130 bottled water brands tested, Consumer Reports found 11 contained detectable arsenic levels, including six with 3 parts per billion or more. The federal standard for arsenic in bottled water is 10 ppb, but Consumer Reports said current research suggests levels above 3 ppb “are potentially dangerous to drink over extended periods of time.”
  • The six with 3 ppb were Whole Foods’ Starkey brand, Keurig Dr Pepper’s Peñafiel, Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Danone’s Volvic, and the Crystal Creamery and EartH2O regional brands.
  • Following Consumer Reports’ inquiries, ​Keurig Dr Pepper conducted new tests and found average arsenic levels of 17 ppb in Peñafiel samples. The company suspended production at its bottling plant in Mexico for two weeks and told Consumer Reports it was improving filtration. The company did not issue a recall.

Dive Insight:

Consumer Reports is using this investigation to show that more consistent regulation of bottled water is needed. Arsenic is “a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land,” according to the World Health Organization. Human exposure can occur from drinking contaminated water and using it in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, WHO said.

Consumer Reports has previously expressed concern about elevated arsenic and heavy metal in water and fruit juices and advocated for lowering the permissible level from 10 ppb to 3 ppb. While the magazine noted there were “dozens of bottled water brands” reporting no detectable levels of arsenic in their products, consuming arsenic over a long period can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower IQ scores in children and cause certain cancers.

To check on arsenic levels in bottled water, Consumer Reports said it reviewed company testing results and public records, as well as conducted independent tests on the Peñafiel, Starkey and Jermuk brands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration previously put Peñafiel and Jermuk, which is from Armenia, on import alerts for containing arsenic above the 10 ppb standard. Nevertheless, Consumer Reports said it was able to buy both brands at retail in two states and on Amazon, and said the FDA responded it would take “appropriate action” if any product in the market was found to be adulterated.

Some bottled water companies pointed out their products meet federal arsenic standards and pose no health or safety risks — and that they have taken appropriate steps to keep them that way. But since Keurig Dr Pepper took action as a result of this new report and found high arsenic levels, more companies might reevaluate their arsenic levels and testing standards. 

Consumer Reports said it should be easy for bottled water producers to ramp up testing regimes and implement treatment protocols to remove arsenic from their water sources.

Companies are likely to take notice of this report since consumer perception can quickly turn negative with publicity about contamination. Bottled water became the top-selling beverage in the U.S. in 2016, beating out carbonated soft drinks and packaged beverages. Sales have soared in recent years because of consumer worries about tap water quality and concerns about sugary drinks. According to Beverage Marketing Corp., U.S. consumption of bottled water skyrocketed 284% between 1994 and 2017, reaching nearly 42 gallons per person each year.

However, some caution that this study is another example of baiting consumers with scare tactics. After all, the arsenic standard in this study is lower than what FDA allows and is unlikely to do harm through normal consumption.

If the bottled water industry doesn’t do whatever is necessary to filter out arsenic and other contaminants from their products, people might take Consumer Reports’ advice and do something easy and far cheaper — drink more highly regulated tap water.

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