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Multiple bottled water brands tainted with arsenic and PFAS

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

bottled water contaminated with arsenic and pfas

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently released a health advisory after it was discovered that bottled water from Spring Hill Farm Dairy Inc. was contaminated with known toxic chemicals per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). Other testing found arsenic in brands of water sold at Whole Foods
  • Exposure to PFAS while pregnant is associated with learning and behavior issues in infants and children and an increase in the risk of certain cancers. PFAS negatively affect the immune system and increase the risk of high blood pressure
  • The source of most bottled water is either from natural springs or municipal supplies; the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for regulating tap water and groundwater, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water. However, the EPA has no maximum contaminant levels established for PFAS and only recently released an action plan to address the issue
  • You might consider ditching bottled water in favor of a whole house filtration system, which will protect your drinking water and the water you use to bathe, which will help reduce your exposure to toxins getting absorbed through your skin

In 1993, the United Nations marked March 22 as World Water Day.1 Water is common, vital and a valuable resource we often squander and pollute. While it pours out of the clouds and seems to fill rivers and oceans, it is a finite resource. In fact, there is currently the same amount of water on Earth as there was when the dinosaurs roamed the planet.2

The average adult human is made of up to 60% water.3 Water covers about 71% of the surface of the planet and the oceans contain 96.5% of all water.4 Nearly 97% of the Earth's water is salty, 2% is locked in glaciers, leaving 1% for all of our needs.5

Water regulates temperature, both for the Earth and the human body. Although you can live about a month without food, you can only live without water for about a week.6

World Water Day was supposed to draw attention to the water we use and how we pollute this valuable resource.7 It is important to recognize that water is interconnected with the rest of the environment. In other words, what is poured on the ground, polluted in the airways or dumped in the toilet will eventually end up in the water supply.8

Although most households in the U.S. and Europe have running water directly from their faucet at home, many choose to drink bottled water. According to the FDA,9 Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) have been set into place for bottled water.

The FDA requires bottled water to be processed under sanitary conditions, protected from bacteria, chemicals and contaminants, and sample-tested at both the source and in the final product. Products labeled bottled, Artesian, drinking, mineral or spring waters are regulated by these rules.10

Bottled water sales continue to rise

Many people drink bottled water as they believe it to be safer than water from the tap.11 According to information from the International Bottled Water Association published in the Bottled Water Reporter magazine,12 bottled water was the highest selling beverage category by volume in 2016 and continued to make strong gains in 2017.

Bottled water sales volume grew from 12.8 billion gallons in 2016 to 13.7 billion gallons in 2017. According to information from the International Bottled Water Association,13 bottled water volume has grown each year since 1977, save for small reductions in 2008 and 2009.

The numbers from 2017 reflect a per person consumption of more than 42 gallons that year compared to the average consumption of carbonated soft drinks, which fell to less than 38 gallons per person.14

Forever chemicals found in bottled water

Across the U.S., tap water has been found to be contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs and agricultural or industrial contaminants. According to the Environmental Working Group,15 while most drinking water gets a passing grade from regulatory agencies, the EPA has not added a new contaminant for regulation in more than 20 years.

July 2, 2019, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued an advisory,16 stating bottled water products containing spring water from Spring Hill Farm Dairy Inc. tested positive for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The Department of Public Health recommends “out of an abundance of caution,” women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and bottle-fed infants should not use Spring Hill Farm Dairy Inc. bottled water. Spring Hill Farm Dairy is a local Massachusetts distributor of spring water marketed as “So pure you can see the difference!”17

Although the majority of bottled water associated with this contamination was sold in Massachusetts, four other brands using Spring Hill water were sold outside the state, including:18

  • Golden Flow Spring Water
  • Hy-Top Spring Water
  • Native Brands Spring Water
  • Pride Pure

It makes sense that bottled water may be contaminated with this highly toxic chemical unless it’s specially filtered for removal. This is due to several reasons: Water is a finite resource that gets recycled for use;19 most bottled water is taken from springs, wells or municipal supplies20 and PFAS are persistent in the environment.21

According to information in the advisory published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Spring Hill Farm Dairy is planning to install a new filter system to remove PFAS from their water supply by July 24, 2019.22 A company spokesperson said:23

"We had an inspection by the FDA this week and everything was in compliance. Although there is no state requirement for us to reduce [PFAS] levels, we are doing so voluntarily and at our own expense."

The EWG maintains an interactive map of water supply PFAS contamination in the U.S.24 Military installations have the greatest risk of PFAS contamination as it’s a chemical used in firefighting foam during training exercises.25

Removing military sites from the map reveals heavier concentrations of contamination across Michigan, the northeast, southern California and northern Alabama and Georgia. There are also spots of contamination throughout many of the remaining states.26

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What is PFAS and why pregnant women should be careful

PFAS are man-made chemicals that repel water and oil.27 Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) are the two most extensively produced and studied of the PFAS chemicals.28 These can be found in food packaging, commercial household products and drinking water. Although certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured due to their toxicity, others are, including Gen-X chemicals and Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).29

According to the Congressional Research Service,30 there are thousands of PFAS chemicals.31 Over the past 10 years, the EPA has evaluated several of these under the Safe Drinking Water Act to determine if national water regulations are warranted.

However, they have not issued any regulations for any PFAS.32 In February 2019, the EPA issued an action plan to address PFAS under municipal environmental laws.33 Despite the EPA’s slow approach to determining if regulation is necessary, research has identified exposure to these chemicals has human health implications.

PFAS does not break down in the environment or in the human body. Cadaver studies demonstrate the chemicals build up in lung, liver and bone tissue.34 According to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, part of the Michigan Health System, studies have demonstrated that exposure may:35

  • Affect children’s abilities to grow and learn
  • Reduce fertility in men and women
  • Interfere with hormone levels
  • Alter the immune system
  • Increase the risks of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and certain cancers

Levels of PFAS compounds have been found in the blood of nearly all people tested as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.36 The CDC states this indicates widespread exposure in the population, and despite bioaccumulation and known toxicity, they believe:37

“Finding a measurable amount of PFAS in serum does not imply that the levels of PFAS cause an adverse health effect.”

PFAS and more slip under the radar

If you follow the breadcrumbs, or water drops in this case, you’ll notice some interesting loopholes where manufacturers and environmental regulatory agencies have allowed PFAS and similar contaminants to slip through the cracks, ending up in bottled water and municipal water supplies.

Water is a finite source and you may be drinking the same water that dinosaurs once bathed in.38

PFAS is a persistent man-made chemical that does not break down in the environment and has been used in various industries around the world since the 1940s.39

The EPA is responsible for regulating tap water and groundwater supplies, while the FDA is responsible for regulating bottled water.40

According to the EPA, they regulate 90 contaminants but have no maximum contaminant levels established for PFAS.41

Bottled water is obtained from municipal water supplies, well water or spring water.42

After taking 10 years to evaluate, the EPA published an action plan described in this way:43 “EPA’s PFAS Action Plan outlines concrete steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health.”

FDA regulations state:44 “They require bottled water producers to … Sample and test both source water and the final product for contaminants.”

Which means:

  • The EPA has not regulated PFAS in the source water for bottled water supplies.45
  • The FDA places responsibility for testing the water they sell on the manufacturers without oversight from an agency and without any legally authorized governmental limit on bottled water.46
  • The PFAS contamination in Massachusetts from Spring Hill Farm Dairy, Inc.47 and the arsenic contamination in bottled water distributed by Whole Foods48 were not reported by the manufacturers.

Arsenic too?

Arsenic is a poisonous chemical naturally found in groundwater. Ingestion poses health concerns when dangerous amounts enter the body, leading to liver disease, cancer, coma and death.49 Chronic exposure can be dangerous as well, since arsenic bioaccumulates in animals.50 In their press release, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) expounded on the risks, especially to children, saying:51

“Children are particularly at risk from arsenic exposure because their bodies are still developing, and direct exposure can affect mental and physical development, including lower IQ test scores and school achievement.

Arsenic can even harm an unborn child as a result of exposure to pregnant women or women likely to become pregnant. The metal is also what is known as an ‘endocrine disrupting chemical,’ which means even small doses can wreak havoc on a human’s hormone system.”

Independent testing by the CEH52 found high levels of arsenic in popular brands of bottled water. The brands included Starkey, owned and distributed by Whole Foods and Penafiel, imported from Mexico and owned by Dr Pepper.

The CEH sent legal notification to the manufacturers and retailers since the levels of arsenic found in the bottled water were above those required for the manufacturer to publish a health warning under California's Proposition 65.53

Proposition 65 is a regulation in California54 that requires businesses to warn citizens about significant exposure to chemicals that the state has identified as contributing to the risks for cancer, birth defects or reproductive problems.

The publication of this information allows California citizens to make informed decisions. The warning is required to be on a product label or posted in a place of business to make individuals aware they are being exposed.55 While designed for Californians, the packaging is often not different throughout the U.S., offering all Americans the chance to make informed decisions about products.

Importance of clean, pure water to health

The daily assault by toxic substances found in your food, water and air places your body at a disadvantage. Drinking water helps maintain your body's fluid balance, control calorie intake, protect your skin and maintain normal bowel function.56

However, when the water you're drinking is contaminated with pharmaceuticals,57 microbeads58 or toxic chemicals,59,60 it increases your body’s toxic burden and the energy required to maintain your health.

Additionally, fluoride, a known neurotoxin, was intentionally added to the water supply when industry disposal became an inconvenient and costly problem. Find more information about fluoride in my past article, “Connecting the Dots — A Statement Opposing Fluoride.”

Add a filtration system and ditch the bottles

In addition to the microplastics found inside bottled water, a new study commissioned by the International Bottled Water Association found it takes 1.3 liters of water to make 1 liter of water in North America, but 1.47 liters of water to make 1 liter globally.61 Although this is lower than the average required to make a liter of soda,62 drinking filtered water directly from your tap requires even less.

Filtering your water is a health priority as it doesn't really matter where you live, since many chemicals find their way into the ecosystem, easily spreading within the water supply. Ideally, the filter system you use will take care of drinking and bathing.

Chemicals can be absorbed through your skin63 and go directly into your bloodstream, bypassing your digestive and internal filtration systems. Unless you can verify the purity of your water, you'll want to seriously consider a high-quality, whole house filtration system.

Ideally, this is installed at the point of entry and a second one at the point of use. This means the water coming into your home is filtered as it comes in and then again at the sink and shower. For a discussion of the different types of filtration systems, see my past article, “Properly Filter Your Water.”

+ Sources and References