PFAS in Bottled Water: What You Need to Know


PFAS in Bottled Water What You Need to Know

Bottled water companies are facing a new crisis: PFAS in bottled water.

What is PFAS? It stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, which are chemicals that have been used since the 1940s to make products stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick.

They’re found not only in carpets but also in clothing, furniture, takeout containers, and food packaging. In recent years it has come to light that PFAS can cause cancer and disrupt hormones over time – even at low levels of exposure. And now they’ve been detected in many popular brands of bottled water from across the country.

You might think that bottled water is safer than tap water, but recent studies have found that some brands of bottled water contain PFAS above safe levels. This article will discuss the prevalence of these compounds in bottled water and what you should do if it’s in your favorite brand.

Related Articles:

14 Bottled Water Brands That Use Reverse Osmosis

How to Test Your Drinking Water for PFAS: A DIY Guide

What is PFAS and Why Should I Worry

PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). It includes a large group of man-made chemicals such as PFOA, PFOS, and GenX. In total, there are more than 4,000 individual molecules in this group.

PFAS have been the most extensively produced man-made chemicals in history, with production spanning from World War II through today. They are used for a variety of applications including surfactants (to emulsify chemical mixtures), flame retardants (to protect your family from fires), waterproofing agents (to keep your clothes clean and dry) or even making certain plastics flexible!

Studies show that certain PFAS compounds can affect your health in many ways. Risks include developmental problems in fetuses and infants, thyroid issues, liver damage kidneys hormonal problems as well immune system malfunctions. Some studies also suggest the possibility for increased cancer risk among people who are exposed to higher concentrations.

PFAS in Bottled Water

Americans drink more bottled water than any other product. In the US, it is a $19.4 billion dollar business that delivers billions of gallons to consumers every year.

Consumer Reports recently tested 47 bottled water brands to measure PFAS concentrations. Their results are startling.

Recent Study for PFAS in Bottled Water

Consumer Reports tested both carbonated and non-carbonated water. They tested a lot of brands in both categories as shown here:

  • Carbonated water – 12 brands tested
  • Non-carbonated water – 35 brands tested

Of all 12 carbonated brands tested, 7 contained PFAS at levels equal to or greater than 1 part per trillion (ppt). One part per trillion is the same as one nanogram per liter (ng/L).

For perspective, 1 ppt is the same as one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The carbonated water bottlers whose products had elevated PFAS concentrations are:

  1. Perrier
  2. La Croix
  3. Canada Dry
  4. Poland Spring
  5. Bubly
  6. Polar
  7. Topo Chico

For non-carbonated water, 2 of the brands had more than 1 ppt total PFAS. These include:

  1. Deer Park
  2. Tourmaline Spring

Which Bottled Waters Have PFAS

I conducted an extensive search of published studies, online databases, and Google searches. I located several sources of data for PFAS in bottled water that are referenced in this article. The following published studies were used to prepare the data table:

  1. Consumer Reports – January to March 2020
  2. New Hampshire DES – January to May 2019

1. Bottled Waters – The Best

According to Consumer Reports’ testing, these brands of bottled water don’t have any PFAS in them. These brands have all earned the label “The Best”!


Bottler

Brand

Study
Total PFAS
(ppt)
ArrowheadNatural Spring WaterCRNon Detect
Berkshire Springs & BlizzardWaterNHDESNon Detect
Boxed Water Is BetterWaterCRNon Detect
Circle K FavoritesSpring WaterNHDESNon Detect
Crystal GeyserWaterNHDESNon Detect
Crystal RockWaterNHDESNon Detect
Crystal SpringsWaterNHDESNon Detect
Good & Gather (Target)Purified Drinking WaterCRNon Detect
Great ValueSpring WaterNHDESNon Detect
Great ValuePurified WaterNHDESNon Detect
Just The BasicsPurified WaterNHDESNon Detect
Market BasketSpring WaterNHDESNon Detect
Members MarkPurified WaterNHDESNon Detect
MonadnockWaterNHDESNon Detect
Nestle Pure LifePurified WaterNHDESNon Detect
Nice!WaterNHDESNon Detect
Poland SpringWaterNHDESNon Detect
PolarArctic WaterNHDESNon Detect
PrimoPurified WaterNHDESNon Detect
PurAquaNHDESNon Detect
Pure NZArtesian WaterNHDESNon Detect
RefresheSpring WaterNHDESNon Detect
Trader Joe’sNatural Mountain Spring WaterNHDESNon Detect

Why is the Total PFAS concentration listed as “non detect” instead of zero? Because the laboratory can only “see” these compounds at the part per trillion level. This means that, in theory, there could still be PFAS molecules floating around in the water that the lab instruments can’t detect. As the science around these compounds improves, we may be able to detect even lower levels of PFAS in water. Let’s hope so.

2. Bottled Water – Good

These bottled waters weren’t completely free of PFAS, but they had very low levels. What does “low levels” mean? According to Consumer Reports, it means less than 1 part per trillion. These brands deserve to be called “Good”.


Bottler

Brand

Study
Total PFAS
(ppt)
365 Everyday Value(Whole Foods) Spring WaterCRLow Levels
AbsopurePurified WaterCRLow Levels
Alkaline88Natural Alkaline WaterCRLow Levels
AquafinaNatural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
CoreHydration NaturalCRLow Levels
CoreEnhanced WaterCRLow Levels
Crystal GeyserNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels
DasaniNatural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
EssentiaNatural Purified Alkaline WaterCRLow Levels
EvianNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels
Fiji WaterNatural Artesian WaterCRLow Levels
FlowAlkaline Spring WaterCRLow Levels
Great Value (Walmart)Natural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
Ice MountainNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels
Just100% Spring WaterCRLow Levels
Just The Basics(CVS) Purified WaterCRLow Levels
Kirkland Signature(Costco) Purified WaterCRLow Levels
LifeWtrNatural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
Liquid DeathSpring WaterCRLow Levels
Nestlé Pure LifeNatural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
NiagaraNatural Purified WaterCRLow Levels
OzarkaNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels
PathwaterPurified WaterCRLow Levels
PentaUltra Pure WaterCRLow Levels
SaratogaNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels
SmartwaterNatural Enhanced WaterCRLow Levels
Trader Joe’sAlkaline Water + ElectrolytesCRLow Levels
WaiakeaHawaiian Volcanic WaterCRLow Levels
ZephyrhillsNatural Spring WaterCRLow Levels

Is 1 ppt PFAS safe to drink? Who knows. We don’t have a federal drinking water standard for PFAS to compare these values to.

Personally, I don’t want to drink anything with PFAS in it, regardless of how low the level is. Many experts hold similar opinions because these “forever chemicals” accumulate in our bodies. Due to their chemical properties, we can’t filter them out of our bodies or break them down like other toxins.

3. Bottled Water – The Bad

These bottled waters were found to contain PFAS at elevated concentrations. They all deserve being called “The Bad”.


Bottler

Brand

Study
Total PFAS
(ppt)
Deer ParkNatural Spring WaterCR1.21
Tourmaline SpringSacred Living WaterCR4.64
365 (Whole Foods)Spring WaterNHDES137.17
Food ClubWaterNHDES132.30
Cumberland FarmsSpring WaterNHDES131.86
Ice CanyonWaterNHDES127.74
Natures PlaceWaterNHDES16.52
Vermont PureNatural Spring WaterNHDES3.52

The NHDES testing program

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services tested for PFAS chemicals in a random sample of bottled water brands sold across the state. They found four samples that exceeded safe levels, and these were all generic store-bought brands you can find at places like Whole Foods Market or CVS Pharmacy. The water in these bottles came from Haverhill Massachusetts which has been cited as being contaminated due to industrial firefighting practices. NHDES reported that the Haverhill water supply has been fitted with a filtration system to remove PFAS.

Limited PFAS testing data available

Not every brand of bottled water has been sampled for PFAS. These results are only for the available data. I spent a lot of time searching for information, but this list is not comprehensive. Since there is no federal or state requirement to sample bottled water, the data is limited.

In addition, the test results only represent a snapshot in time. The PFAS values that were measured at the time of testing may be different now. Some could be higher; others might be lower.

Is My Bottled Water Safe to Drink?

How can you make sense out of all these testing results? Should you only drink water with absolute no PFAS in it? Can you drink a little bit of PFAS and still be safe. The sampling results in this table show a wide range of PFAS concentrations.

As consumers, how can we make sense out of these results?

One suggestion for determining whether or not your bottled water is safe or not is to look at the drinking water standards. If the levels of PFAS in water is below the “safe limit”, then you can assume the risk is acceptable. Of course, “acceptable” to whom?

State and federal PFAS drinking water standards

What is the federal drinking water standard for PFAS? Unfortunately, the EPA has not established a safe drinking water standard. Instead, they created a health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water. The consensus of scientific opinion, according to the EPA, is 70 parts per trillion of PFAS is “safe” to drink.

Most states have decided to create their own drinking water standards for PFAS. The lowest limit was set by California at 5.1 ppt for PFOA (this is a single compound and not the class of chemicals we call PFAS). Michigan and Ohio set their limits at 140,000 ppt.

Here is a sampling of the available limits set by various agencies and organizations.

AgencyStandardPFAS Limit
US EPAHealth Advisory Level70 ppt
International Bottled Water AssociationIndustry Standard10 ppt
CaliforniaPFOA Limit5.1 ppt
MichiganPFHxA (MCL)140,000 ppt

Limited PFAS testing data available

Not every brand of bottled water has been sampled for PFAS. These results are only for the available data. I spent a lot of time searching for information, but this list is not comprehensive. Since there is no federal or state requirement to sample bottled water, the data is limited.

In addition, the test results only represent a snapshot in time. The PFAS values that were measured at the time of testing may be different now. Some could be higher; others might be lower.

Does Poland Spring bottled water have PFAS

Poland Springs non-carbonated bottled water does not have PFAS. This is based on NHDES testing done in 2019 for 5 different samples. All samples were reported to be non-detect.

Poland Springs Zesty Lime Sparkling Water (carbonated) contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done in 2020. They reported the total PFAS level to be 1.66 ppt.

These values are below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Deer Park bottled water have PFAS

Deer Park non-carbonated bottled water contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done on their Natural Spring Water brand in 2020. They reported the total PFAS level to be 1.21 ppt.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Tourmaline Spring bottled water have PFAS

Tourmaline Spring non-carbonated bottled water contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done on their Sacred Living Water brand in 2020. They reported the total PFAS level to be 4.64 ppt.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Sparkling Ice bottled water have PFAS

Sparkling Ice does not contain PFAS. This is based on Consumer Reports testing of their Black Raspberry Sparkling Water brand done in 2020. The results for total PFAS were reported as ND.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Spindrift bottled water have PFAS

Spindrift Raspberry Lime Sparkling Water contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done in 2020 that reported the total PFAS level to be 0.19 ppt.

Does Sanpellegrino bottled water have PFAS

Sanpellegrino Natural Sparkling Mineral Water contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done in 2020 that reported the total PFAS level to be 0.31 ppt.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Dasani bottled water have PFAS

Dasani Black Cherry Sparkling Water contains PFAS. This is based on Consumer Reports testing done in 2020 that reported the total PFAS level to be 0.37 ppt.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Does Schweppes bottled water have PFAS

Schweppes Lemon Lime Sparkling Water Beverage contains PFAS. This is based on CR testing done in 2020 that reported the total PFAS level to be 0.58 ppt.

This is below the IBWA established SOQs for PFAS which is 5 ppt for one PFAS compound and 10 ppt for total PFAS. It is also below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water.

Which Bottled Waters Are Safest to Drink – PFAS

Bottled water may contain PFAS

The best way to know if a particular bottled water brand is safe to drink would be to look at testing that was done by a regulatory agency like the EPA or FDA. Unfortunately, there are no federal or state requirements to test bottled water for PFAS.

Luckily, there are two good sources of data – the Consumer Reports study done in 2020 and the NHDES random sampling conducted in 2019. These studies both tested bottled water for PFAS compounds.

The safest bottled water brands to drink (based on PFAS testing) are:

  • Arrowhead Natural Spring Water
  • Berkshire Springs & Blizzard (W.B. Mason)
  • Boxed Water Is Better
  • Circle K Favorites Spring Water
  • Crystal Geyser
  • Crystal Rock 
  • Crystal Springs
  • Good & Gather (Target) Purified Drinking Water
  • Great Value Purified Water
  • Great Value Spring Water
  • Just The Basics Purified Water
  • Market Basket Natural Spring Water
  • Members Mark Purified Water
  • Monadnock
  • Nestle Pure Life Purified Water
  • Nice!
  • Nursery Purified Water With Fluoride
  • Poland Spring
  • Polar Arctic Water
  • Primo Purified Water
  • Pur Aqua
  • Pure New Zealand Artesian Water
  • Refreshe Spring Water
  • Sparkling Ice Black Raspberry Sparkling Water
  • Trader Joes Natural Mountain Spring Water

All of these bottled waters had no detectable amounts of PFAS in them. It’s great that there are some bottled waters available with no PFAS. Obviously, it would be better if all of them met this standard, but it’s a good start.

Is Tap Water safer than bottled water

Tap water may be contaminated with PFAS

Is tap water safer than bottled water? This seems like a simple question that should have a straight forward answer.

Unfortunately, we don’t know. Bottled water does not have to be tested for PFAS. There are no federal, state, or local requirements to test it.

The clean water act requires that public water supplies must be tested routinely. PFAS does not have a federal drinking water limit, but the EPA does require testing for these compounds. If you live in a small town or get your water from a drinking water well that supplies your Home Owners Association or Condo, your water may not be tested.

Let’s start with what we do know. Is your tap water safe?

It depends on where you live and what the source of your tap water is. Experts at EPA estimate that more than 200 million people — the majority of Americans — have PFOA and PFOS contaminated tap water with one part per trillion or higher concentrations.

This indicates that most Americans do not have safe tap water.

How safe is bottled water? We don’t know for certain, but we suspect that it isn’t very safe.

Two studies that were conducted on bottled water found several major brands contained detectable levels of PFAS.

Tap water is not safer than bottled water. We can’t know for certain, because there isn’t enough testing done to provide a reliable answer. Both tap water and bottled water may contain elevated concentrations of PFAS depending on where the water comes from.

The only way to know for sure is to do your own testing. This isn’t practical because PFAS tests are expensive, and water quality can very over time.

Is bottled spring water better than purified bottled water

Bottled water comes from a variety of sources. Some bottlers use well water, others use spring water, and some use tap water.

If the supply of water is contaminated with PFAS then the bottled water will have PFAS in it. Some bottlers use carbon and other treatment technologies to purify their water. If water purification is used, then the bottled water is likely to be safe – with no levels of PFAS.

Purified bottled water is generally safer than untreated spring water.

Bottled water treatment that works

Many companies that sell bottled water use treat it before it is packaged. They do this for many reasons, including:

  • remove taste and odor compounds
  • remove lead
  • remove heavy metals
  • remove PFAS

Treatment processes that are known to remove PFAS from water include:

  1. activated carbon filtration
  2. reverse osmosis
  3. ion exchange resin
  4. nanofiltration

The first two technologies – activated carbon filtration and RO – are the most widely used treatment for bottled water. Both work very well for removing PFAS.

PFAS Testing Requirements for Bottled Water

Having established limits for contaminates in water is a critically important way to protect public health. An important component of regulatory oversight is to routinely test the products the agency oversees. This testing keeps manufacturers honest and provides consumers with confidence that they can safely use the products.

Federal bottled water testing requirements for PFAS

There are no federal bottled water testing requirements for PFAS. Several trade groups and environmental advocates have asked both EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set PFAS limits for bottled water, but neither has done so.

The EPA has established a health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water. Public systems that are contaminated with more than this number must notify their customers and provide an alternate source, like bottled drinks or filters on faucets at home. These standards do not apply to bottled water.

Industry trade group PFAS requirements

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is committed to providing consumers with safe and high-quality bottled water. They require member companies, who bottle more than 5 million gallons of water per year, test their products annually for PFAS. Samples must be analyzed using EPA Method 537.1.

The PFAS limits set by IBWA are:

  • Individual PFAS compound – 5 ppt
  • Total PFAS – 10 ppt

Voluntary PFAS testing

Manufacturers of bottled water are free to sample their products any time they wish. They can also report those results to consumers if they choose to do so. However, I was not able to find any bottler who had voluntarily reported PFAS testing results that they had performed. I spent a lot of time looking, and I did more than a simple Google search.

I suspect that most, and probably all, bottled water producers test their products for PFAS. Fear of liability probably keeps them from sharing it with the public. They may also worry that testing for contaminants in their product might suggest to consumers that there is something to worry about – even if the data are positive.

This is disappointing, especially given the serious health risks associated with PFAS and the widespred problem of PFAS contaminated water supplies.

Which Bottled Waters Are the Worst – PFAS

As mentioned previously, there is not a lot of PFAS data for bottled water available. The most comprehensive data comes from the NHDES as part of a random study they did in 2019. Their sampling results were used to make this assessment of bottled waters.

The worst bottled waters for PFAS contamination are:

  1. 365 Spring Water (120.38 and 137.17 ppt)
  2. Cumberland Farms Spring Water (131.86 ppt)
  3. Food Club (132.3 ppt)
  4. Ice Canyon (127.74 ppt)
  5. Natures Place (16.52 ppt)

These values all exceed the IBWA SOP value of 10 ppt for Total PFAS. All exceed the EPA health advisory level of 70 ppt except Natures Place.

It is worth noting that NHDES reported that the source of water for several of these bottled waters is a spring located in Haverhill, Massachusetts. After they collected their samples, this water supply was fitted with a PFAS treatment system.

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