OAKLAND, Calif. - Many people buy bottled water at a premium under the assumption that it is healthier, cleaner and safer than tap water, but new consumer reports reveal that not all bottled water is actually a better choice.
The California Center for Environmental Health issued a release on Tuesday regarding independent testing that found high levels of arsenic — a toxic metal that can cause reproductive harm, cancer and birth defects — in two prominent bottled water brands.
CEH has sent legal notices to the manufacturers and retailers of Starkey Water, owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, owned by Keurig Dr. Pepper, which is bottled in Mexico and sold at Target and Walmart.
Under California's Prop 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, these two bottled water brands contain enough arsenic that they are required to place a health warning on labels — something that neither brand has done.
"There is no place for arsenic in bottled water," said Caroline Cox, Senior Scientist at CEH. "Bottled water companies need to take the necessary steps to remove this toxic metal from their products, and retailers should stop selling them now. Until those conditions are met, we recommend consumers avoid purchasing Whole Foods' Starkey and Dr Pepper's Penafiel."
Just two months ago, Consumer Reports published similar research which found high levels of arsenic in the same two brands of bottled water.
This isn't the first time Starkey and Peñafiel have gotten into trouble over arsenic content in their bottled water.
Starkey Water had to recall more than 2,000 cases of bottled water between 2016 and 2017 because the arsenic content was found to be beyond the federally acceptable level, 10 parts per billion. Whole Foods did their own internal testing a year later and found arsenic levels to be just barely below the federal limit, but this level of arsenic can still be incredibly harmful if ingested regularly.
Both Peñafiel and the Food and Drug Administration have known for years that the bottled water brand contains dangerous levels of arsenic, but neither has ever issued a recall. Consumer Reports's recent testing revealed that arsenic levels were about double the federal legal limit.
Arsenic is a heavy metal that acts as a carcinogen, which can wreak havoc on the human body. Even small levels of arsenic ingestion can cause big problems; it only take a small dose of arsenic significantly disrupt the body's endocrine system, which regulates hormone production and secretion.
Prolonged arsenic ingestion via contaminated water can lead to toxicity in almost all systems of the body because arsenic inactivates up to 200 enzymes responsible for things like DNA synthesis and repair.
Initial symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, and can in some cases lead to nerve damage or brain damage, such as memory loss, dementia, or seizures.
With chronic ingestion of arsenic, the heavy metal builds up in the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, muscles, nervous system, gastrointestinal tact and spleen, causing multi-system disease. At its worst stages, chronic arsenic toxicity leads to malignant cancer of the skin, lungs, liver, kidney and bladder.
Children are much more susceptible to arsenic toxicity, which can negatively affect mental and physical development as they are still growing. This can lead to lower IQs and poor performance in school.
"It makes no sense that consumers can purchase bottled water that is less safe than tap water," said 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."