For years, we have known that much of the bottled water on the market is simply tap water that has been purified, poured into bottles with pretty labels, and sold for a hefty price. In other words, you could do the same thing with your faucet and a Big Berkey.
There are many contaminants that can be found in both tap and bottled water, including lead, pesticides, bacteria, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, parasites, and arsenic.
An investigation found arsenic in several brands of bottled water.
We will get back to that report in a moment, but first, here’s a bit about arsenic, in case you aren’t familiar with it and why it is something you don’t want in your drinking water. The following is an excerpt from Daisy Luther’s book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide:
This naturally-occurring element is found in rocks, soil, water, air, plants, and animals. Natural events like volcanic activity, forest fires, and erosion of rocks can cause it to be actively released into the environment. Arsenic is also used in agricultural and industrial practices and is used in some fertilizers, paints, dyes, metals, drugs, and soaps. It is also used as a wood preservative and can be released by mining and coal burning.
Arsenic is highly toxic and can affect nearly every organ system in the body.
There are short- and long-term health effects associated with arsenic exposure. Some effects appear within hours or days of exposure, and others develop over many years.
Long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking contaminated water can cause chronic arsenic poisoning, leading to life-long problems. This most commonly affects the skin in the form of lesions, discolorations, thickening, and cancer. Cancer of the bladder, lungs, prostate, kidneys, nasal passages, and liver are other possible devastating diseases arsenic can cause.
Arsenic can also affect the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological (with symptoms including numbness and partial paralysis), reproductive, and endocrine systems.
Severe arsenic poisoning can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms are followed by numbness and tingling of the extremities, muscle cramping, and, in extreme cases, death.
Water that contains high amounts of arsenic should not be used for drinking, cooking, or watering crops. Plants can take up arsenic through their roots, causing the product of the plant to contain high levels of arsenic, which is then passed on to the person or animal who consumes it. Rice has been found to have particularly high levels of arsenic, so much so that many holistic nutrition experts recommend eating rice infrequently or not at all.
Groundwater sources tend to have higher levels of arsenic than surface water sources. That’s because the demand on groundwater is usually higher. It is more commonly used in municipal systems and private wells. This heavy use can cause water levels to drop, allowing arsenic to be released from rock formations.
Certain regions of the United States tend to have higher levels of arsenic in their water supplies. The EPA’s standard is 10 parts per billion (ppb), and some western states have levels that are higher than that. Some parts of the Midwest and New England have levels that high, or close to it.
Because of this toxic element’s prevalence in the environment, testing your water source for arsenic contamination is a good idea. Most home-testing kits cost less than $15, and you’ll see your results within minutes. (source)
For their investigation, Consumer Reports reviewed hundreds of public records and test reports from bottled water brands and federal and state regulators.
We found that several popular brands sell bottled water with arsenic levels at or above 3 ppb; current research suggests that amounts above that level are potentially dangerous to drink over extended periods of time. CR believes the federal limit for bottled water should be revised to 3 ppb from the current federal standard of 10 ppb.
In total, CR identified 11 brands out of more than 130 that either self-reported or, based on tests we commissioned, had detectable amounts of arsenic. Of those, six had levels of 3 ppb or higher. These brands are Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Peñafiel (owned by Keurig Dr Pepper), Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Volvic (owned by Danone), and two regional brands, Crystal Creamery and EartH₂O. (source)
Three bottled water brands had concerning levels of arsenic.
CR also was able to purchase two brands of imported water – Jermuk from Armenia and Peñafiel from Mexico – that are on an import alert issued by the US government for previously having arsenic levels above the federal limit of 10 ppb. The alert is meant to “prevent potentially violative products from being distributed in the United States,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. Yet, CR easily purchased the two brands in retail stores in two states and on Amazon.
The organization’s recent test of Jermuk water shows three tested samples averaging about 1.31 ppb, well below the federal threshold and down from the more than 450 ppb the government found in 2009.
All three Peñafiel samples CR tested found arsenic levels well above the 10 ppb limit, registering an average of 18.1 ppb.
The additional details surrounding Peñafiel are disturbing:
Beverage giant Keurig Dr Pepper provided CR in March with Peñafiel’s bottled water quality report for 2018, which stated that the water had nondetectable amounts of arsenic. But the company said this week that it had conducted new testing, because of CR’s questions, and confirmed levels above the federal limit, at an average of 17 ppb.
Keurig Dr Pepper said Monday that it had suspended bottled water production for two weeks at its Mexico facility that makes Peñafiel for export to the U.S. It plans to improve filtration at the plant to lower arsenic levels, the company told CR. For its latest internal testing, the company said it used a different protocol and consulted the FDA. A recall isn’t planned, Peñafiel said, but CR believes one should be issued. (source)
Another brand that was found to contain elevated levels of arsenic is a bit surprising: the Starkey Whole Foods brand – which previously was flagged for high levels – was found to still have levels that approach or exceed the legal federal limit. “Three samples tested this month ranged from 9.48 to 9.86 ppb of arsenic; a fourth registered 10.1 ppb, just above the federal limit of 10 ppb. The tested bottles of water were purchased in March at retail locations,” the CR report states.
In a statement, Whole Foods said it had recently conducted an analysis on Starkey samples from the same lot used in the tests that CR commissioned. The company said the tests “show these products are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.” The company also said it tests “every production run of water before it is sold.”
“We would never sell products that do not meet FDA requirements,” the company’s statement said. (source)
We can’t rely on government to tell us if water is safe.
“It makes no sense that consumers can purchase bottled water that is less safe than tap water,” says James Dickerson, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports. “If anything, bottled water—a product for which people pay a premium, often because they assume it’s safer—should be regulated at least as strictly as tap water.”
While drinking a single glass of water with 3 ppb of arsenic probably will not harm you, regular consumption over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, can lower IQ scores in children, and can cause certain cancers and other health problems, Dickerson says.
Given the history of contamination in water supplies across the country, trusting officials to keep us safe just isn’t a realistic option. And, because government regulation of bottled water is flawed as well, trusting companies that produce it isn’t a great idea either.
…some states have inconsistent arsenic guidelines in place for tap and bottled water, with stricter thresholds in place for tap than for bottled water. And public records on bottled water quality are also difficult to access, CR found, with some states destroying company testing reports after a year and other states not collecting them at all.
The FDA set the federal threshold for arsenic in drinking water at 10 ppb in 2006, in line with the standard for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates tap water. But New Jersey says the level for tap water should be half that. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection says that water with arsenic above 5 ppb shouldn’t be used for “drinking, cooking, mixing baby formula, or in other consumptive ways.” However, the state’s bottled water arsenic limit is still 10 ppb, in keeping with the federal standard. New Hampshire is considering a similar standard, but also for tap water only. (source)
Don’t assume bottled water is safer than tap water.
According to documents obtained by CR, the federal government’s safety inspections of water bottling facilities hit a 15-year low in 2017, the report states:
In 2010, the FDA conducted 371 inspections; by 2017, that number fell to 209. These inspections include verifying that companies have test results on file for their products.
But records show that some companies have been issued violations by the FDA and state agencies for lacking legally required test data. The companies were required to correct the violations by a later date, records show. The FDA doesn’t conduct tests on individualized finished bottled water during these inspections, a spokesperson said, and relies on companies to produce their own results. (Imported water could be tested during routine border testing at ports of entry, however, the spokesperson said.) (source)
Over the last five years, at least 22 voluntary recalls have been initiated by bottled water firms, according to FDA records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, including for mold, pieces of plastic ending up in the finished product, and excessive arsenic. The FDA has never mandated a bottled water recall. However, it “has issued at least three warning letters to bottled water firms for misbranded source water labels, E. coli contamination, and failure to conduct follow-up testing for E. coli contamination when coliforms are detected,” according to CR.
“This is a huge, multibillion-dollar industry selling a product that is viewed by many consumers as safer than tap water,” says Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which published a four-year bottled water study in 1999. He says that “meaningful oversight of this extremely profitable business” is needed and that consumers should be able to easily get test results online.
“These companies make a mint on basically something that’s a free resource,” says David Carpenter, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany. “So there’s no reason that they can’t find a water source that is either very, very low in arsenic, or do the treatment themselves.”
Just last month, McDaniel Life-Line LLC voluntarily recalled all lots of Life-Line Water because the FDA found the product to be contaminated with the deadly Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. Last year, a study performed on 250 bottles of water purchased in 9 different countries found that 93% of the water bottles had some contamination from plastic particles.
Here’s how to protect yourself.
If you buy bottled water, go to the company’s website to see if it publishes test results. Or, check the product label for contact information. Look for reports that show nondetectable levels of arsenic. Search the brand’s entire report for other listed contaminants.
You can filter bottled water yourself at home, but that can be expensive – you’ll have to pay for the water itself, and a good filtration system.
If you use tap or well water, you can test it yourself at home, or have a professional do it. For more on testing your water and a list of kits, please see How to Test Your Drinking Water (And Why You Should Do It). Most municipalities test their water and offer reports to the public as well.
Considering that both tap water and bottled water are subject to contamination (and we aren’t always notified), perhaps the best option is to purify your water yourself. We like the Big Berkey.
What do you think?
Do you regularly drink bottled water? Or, do you filter tap water at home? Do you test your water regularly? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About the Author
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.