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Surprisingly high levels of PFAS chemicals have been found in several popular brands of bottled water in the United States, according to a Consumer Reports Investigation. Though none of the brands tested exceeded the levels for tap water suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many experts and state regulators claim that limit is not acceptable.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalky substances,  are compound chemicals often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down and there is no known way to destroy them. They are found in many consumer products, including food packaging, nonstick materials (like Teflon), paints, and cleaning products.  

Of the nearly 50 brands of bottled water tested for four heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury) and 30 PFAS chemicals, it was the sparkling water where higher levels of PFAS were detected. All had traces of heavy metals well below the legal limit, but only two of the 35 non-carbonated waters had PFAS that exceeded 1 part per trillion (ppt) compared to seven of the 12 carbonated waters testing over 1 ppt.

Topo Chico topped this leaderboard with a PFAS level of 9.76, followed by Polar at 6.41, and Bubly at 2.24 with Canada Dry, Perrier, La Croix, and Polar Spring all coming in just over 1ppt. Only one brand came in at concerning levels of arsenic: Whole Foods’ Starkey Spring Water at 9.53 ppb.

There are currently no federal limits for PFAS in drinking water, but some states require routine testing and have set their own limits. The EPA’s current guidelines state that PFAS levels should be below 70 ppt, but scientists and environmental groups say this is too high and 1 ppt is a more safe level for humans. While the EPA says it is working on proposals for regulating bottled water, according to Ryan Felton, an investigative journalist who worked on the CR report, it could take years before this becomes law.

Currently, it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that is responsible for regulating bottled water, and though it is investigating the exposure of people to PFAS through food and drink, it does not currently offer any guidelines or advice for a limit in bottled water.

PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects in humans, from increased cholesterol and different cancers such as kidney, testicular, pancreatic, liver and bladder to name a few.  It also affects infant birth weights and the immune system, according to the EPA. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences includes “altered metabolism, fertility, reduced fetal growth, and reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections.”

The Customer Reports investigative team heard back from all the companies with bottled water that tested above 1 ppt – except Bubly. Although most made the point their products did in fact fall well under current requirements, and La Croix and Polar challenged how CR arrived at their findings and multiple other companies including Coca-Cola (Topo Chico) and Nestle (Polar Spring and Perrier) said they supported efforts for federal limits.  

The CR report states that the level of PFAS found in some sparkling water shows the need for science-based federal limits in both tap and bottled water. 

“The fact that so many brands had total PFAS below 1 ppt shows it is feasible to get to more protective levels,” Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy, said.