Assume that Bottled Water is Safer than Tap...Think Again!
Testing Finds Arsenic in Bottled Water at Whole Foods
Bottled water is marketed as healthy, pristine, and pure. And people believe this, often paying a premium cost for water that they believe will be healthier than what comes out of the tap. Bottled water is one of the most-sold beverages in the United States — which makes it especially disturbing to think that it may not be so safe after all.
What's So Dangerous About Bottled Water?
Recent studies by the Center for Environmental Health and Consumer Reports have found alarming levels of harmful chemicals in bottled water sold across the country. In June 2019, the Center for Environmental Health tested popular bottled water brands Starkey, owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and found concerning levels of arsenic. These levels are high enough that we believe they require a warning label under California state law Proposition 65, but no such label is in use.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring but extremely hazardous toxic metal, even in small doses. It can cause developmental issues in children, including damage to brain development, as well as birth defects, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This is not something people of any age should drink, not in any quantity.
CEH's testing confirms a similar test by Consumer Reports, which found concerning levels of arsenic in these and other brands. And around the same time, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health put out a warning for hazardous levels of a class of persistent, nasty chemicals called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in Spring Hill Farm Dairy bottled water being sold across New England. As of right now, several of these contaminated brands are still on store shelves, though some Peñafiel products have been taken down.
What's Being Done to Clean Up Bottled Water?
Consumer Reports discovered that the Food and Drug Administration has known about excessive arsenic in Peñafiel water since at least 2013, and has not recalled any products. .
When the government won't act, it's up to consumer watchdog organizations to take the issue directly to the companies involved. Which is why the Center for Environmental Health has sent legal notices to Whole Foods and Keurig Dr Pepper as well as warned to stores that carry these contaminated products.
The good news is, companies are often very responsive to public pressure. In June, Keurig Dr Pepper took their Peñafiel unflavored water off the shelves. Whole Foods hasn't responded yet.
What You Can Do About It?
Until these brands are taken off the shelves, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to avoid the affected brands like Whole Foods' Starkey water. Better yet, stop buying bottled water altogether!
Tap is a great alternative to bottled water in most areas. It's much cheaper than bottled water, and avoids the environmental costs of single use bottles. If you just don't like the taste of tap water, a faucet-mounted or pour-through carbon filter will reduce any weird tastes.
If you live in a town where specific water contaminants are a problem, bottled water and/or a filter are necessary, but otherwise tap water is fine. If you're suddenly wondering "Wait… do I live in a town where water contaminants is a problem?", you can check out your local Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). A CCR is an annual drinking water quality report (required by the EPA) that tells you where your water comes from and what's in it. If your water comes from a well, both the EPA and CDC recommend you conduct your own annual water test. NSF has excellent recommendations for many different types of filters that are all certified to remove contaminants.
You can avoid single use plastic water bottles even when you're on the go by bringing your own reusable water bottle. Because Health has a roundup of the best plastic free water bottles, which includes stainless steel and glass options. Reusable water bottles are convenient and better for both the environment and your health. There are even apps that show you where you refill your bottle when you are out and about. Happy hydrating!