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Arsenic in Bottled Water Prompts a Product Removal: How Much Is Safe?

Source: New York Times

By Emily S. Reub

A line of unflavored mineral spring water was being voluntarily withdrawn after reports that it contained high levels of arsenic. Credit Denis Charlet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Keurig Dr Pepper said it was withdrawingits Peñafiel brand unflavored mineral spring water products after reports that they contained high levels of arsenic.

The announcement, which was made on Friday, came three days after the Center for Environmental Health notified the company that tests showed the amount of arsenic in the water exceeded the level requiring a health warning under California’s consumer protection law, and two months after Consumer Reportsfound the amount exceeded the level set by the federal government.

A market withdrawal is voluntary and “occurs when a product has a minor violation that would not be subject to FDA legal action,” according to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Keurig Dr Pepper said its own independent water quality tests confirmed arsenic levels exceeding the F.D.A.’s bottled water standards of 10 parts per billion.

Ms. Gilroy said production was suspended in April and enhanced filtration systems were installed. The company said none of its other products were affected by the withdrawal.

Consumer Reports and the Center for Environmental Health, which is based in Oakland, Calif., said another brand, Starkey Water, which is owned by Whole Foods, contained arsenic levels that met federal standards but exceeded levels they deemed safe. Consumer Reports said the levels were eight parts per billion.

A spokeswoman for Whole Foods declined to comment on Sunday about the center’s testing but said the products tested by Consumer Reports were “fully compliant with F.D.A. standards for heavy metals.”

What’s the danger of arsenic in water and how is it regulated? Here’s what you need to know:

Chronic low-dose exposureto arsenic has been implicated in respiratory problems in children and adults and in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers of the skin, bladder and lung.


Studies have also shown it can be harmful to developing fetuses and children, and negatively affect cognitive development, intelligence and memory, according to the World Health Organization.

Arsenic is a heavy metal found in the Earth’s crust and ubiquitous in the environment, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Because it can leach into groundwater through rocks in soil, contaminated drinking water is the most common way humans can ingest it. But it can also be found in certain foods, such as rice.

The Environmental Protection Agencysets arsenic levels in public water systems at 10 parts per billion — the same limit the F.D.A. sets for bottled water.

Consumer Reports said there should be more consistent oversight of the bottled water industry.

“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,” Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer, James Dickerson, said in its report.

Consumer Reports also said the federal threshold should be lowered to three parts per billion. Erik D. Olson, a drinking water expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed. “Since it is a carcinogen, there is no completely ‘safe’ level of arsenic,” he said.

The F.D.A. did not respond to a request for a comment on Monday.

The International Bottled Water Associationsaid the findings by Consumer Reports “unnecessarily” scared consumers about the safety of bottled water.

“Bottled water, like all food and beverages, is strictly regulated” by the F.D.A., an association spokeswoman, Jill Culora, said. And experts who work for the agency “have concluded that — based on the best available science — the current 10 ppb standard for arsenic in bottled water protects the public health,” she said.

Americans last year consumed 13.8 billion gallons of bottled water, surpassing carbonated soft drinks in popularity, the association said.

Unlike tap water, which is largely regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, bottled water, as a packaged food product, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency also oversees inspections of bottling plants. Some states require bottled water companies to be licensed annually.

But “some states have inconsistent arsenic guidelines in place for tap and bottled water, with stricter thresholds in place for tap than for bottled water,” according to Consumer Reports. And “few states regularly conduct independent tests on bottled water for contaminants, as municipalities must for tap water.”

Mr. Olson said no over-the-counter kits are reliable for testing for arsenic. The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends using a state-certified drinking water lab; a list is on the E.P.A.’s website.

Some labs, like, will do a test at a reasonable price, Mr. Olson said. He suggested asking for only an arsenic test, which will cost less.


“Basically, the consumer cannot tell,” Mr. Olson said. “Most contaminants of concern like arsenic are not visible and cannot be tasted or smelled.”

There are no public databases of bottled water quality information. Some companies publish test results on their websites, or include a telephone number or email address on labels, where consumers can request detailed test data.

Mr. Olson said that many bottlers will not provide comprehensive data, however.

“We have argued that there’s a need for a right-to-know law for bottled water requiring full disclosure of test results, including any problem results, on the bottle,” he said. “Tap water systems are required to do an annual report to their consumers of their test results. Why not bottlers?”