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Bottled water has a moment. And not good. Plastic water bottles are one of the most common marine litter, helping to release more than eight million tons of plastic into the oceans each year. Can and glass aren’t much better; According to the EPA, 75 percent of our current waste stream is recyclable, but only about 30 percent is properly recycled.
Millions of people have foregone single serve drinks to do their part for the planet, but they are still making exceptions for “value added” products like bottled water. However, a recent investigation into consumer reports could change that.
The report shows high levels of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” as these can linger in the body in a number of popular brands of mineral water. The results show that they may not be the best choice for your health or the planet. So should you still drink sparkling water?
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What are PFAS chemicals?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, and GenX, among others. PFAS chemicals were developed in the 1940s and quickly became a popular choice in the manufacture of nonstick cookware. Even if you avoid coated cookware these days (like Teflon, see our guide to non-toxic cookware to keep chemicals out of your food), you are likely and possibly frequently exposed to PFAS. For example, if you’ve ordered take-away groceries in the past eight months (who hasn’t?), These are often found in coated take-away containers like pizza boxes. They are also used in fire fighting foam, water and stain resistant textiles and materials, and in various other protective coating applications.
The water supply, especially near industrial facilities where PFAS is used or manufactured, is at higher risk of contamination. However, most of the country is incredibly vulnerable as PFAS contamination levels are still unregulated. Up to 110 million Americans can be exposed to PFAS in their drinking water. That’s more than 30 percent of all Americans at risk. According to consumer reports, tests have shown that PFAS is present in more than 1,400 municipal water supplies in 49 states.
The harmful chemicals are found in food, either from exposure to packaging made with the chemicals or from contaminated soil and water. They are also found in household products, various cleaning products, waxes, and polishes. They can also be found in certain work environments in which they are used in production.
According to Dr. Abe Malkin, Founder and Medical Director of Concierge MD LA, the EPA has been researching the risks of PFAS in water since the 1990s without formally regulating it.
“Exposure to high levels of PFAS can be detrimental to the immune system,” he says, pointing out risks such as hormonal imbalances, elevated cholesterol, and increased risks for certain types of cancer. This is no surprise to the companies that make them. While the general public was ignorant of the health risks associated with PFAS for decades, manufacturers such as DuPont and 3M were aware of the dangers as early as the 1960s, but failed to make the public aware of the risks. By the 1990s, PFAS manufacturers knew that exposure could cause some forms of cancer.
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PFAS in your mineral water
In September, Consumer Reports released the results of tests conducted on sparkling and non-sparkling water brands to determine trace levels of heavy metals and PFAS chemicals. A dozen sparkling brands were tested, including bestsellers Dasani, San Pellegrino, Perrier and La Croix.
While the sparkling water samples all fell below the recommended heavy metal limits, the PFAS levels raised some concerns and, according to the tests, the sparkling water was more likely to test positive for PFAS than the shallow water samples. Brands that tested over 1 ppt (parts per trillion) included Perrier, La Croix, Canada Dry, Poland Spring, Bubly, Polar, and Topo Chico.
But how did the chemicals get there?
“There are a few possible reasons,” says Consumer Reports. Possibilities include the carbonation process, the contaminated spring water, or some treatments to remove chemicals that are not as effective as others.
According to consumer reports, all companies except Bubly have responded to inquiries. “La Croix and Canada Dry said the levels in their products were way below current standards or requirements,” it says. “Topo Chico, made by Coca-Cola and with the highest PFAS scores in CR tests, said it will” make further improvements to prepare for more stringent standards in the future, “Nestlé, maker of Poland Spring and Perrier, said that its recent testing failed to detect PFAS and that it was helping federal border setting efforts. LaCroix and Polar questioned how CR came to our total PFAS amounts. “
Montane Sparkling Water told Organic Authority that despite the lack of regulations, it has “always tested for PFAS chemicals.” Founder Hollis Calloway says “everyone in the industry tests for PFAS,” but multinationals like Coca-Cola and Nestlé “care more about profits than safety.” In other words, they could deprioritize tests.
And you can. Despite the risks, the EPA still has to regulate the PFAS levels in drinking water. According to Brian Ronholm, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Reports, the results are further evidence that the EPA needs to take action.
Ronholm highlights the fact that some brands can keep PFAS out of their products. “The fact that so many brands had a PFAS of less than 1 ppt shows that it is possible to achieve a higher level of protection,” he says.
“I first asked the EPA more than 19 years ago … and we’re still waiting for a full national response,” said Robert Bilott, an attorney who led a class action lawsuit in the 2000s involving the chemical company DuPont accused of contaminating drinking water in the Ohio River Valley with PFAS, Consumer Reports said.
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Are there safe bottled water options?
All brands tested by Consumer Reports were kept within limits that were largely believed to be safe. One part per trillion is the limit recommended as safe by the Environment Working Group, which is roughly equivalent to a grain of sand in an Olympic swimming pool.
“However, some experts say that even 1 ppt is too high,” says Consumer Reports. Reference is made to a 2019 report by the Defense Council on Natural Resources which recognized limited toxicity data, but requires zero tolerance “to provide an adequate safety margin to protect public health from a class of chemicals , which is characterized by extreme persistence, high mobility, and is associated with a wide variety of different types of toxicity with very low exposure. “
Consumer Reports notes that the EPA “does not comment” on a proposed limit of 1 ppt and says that it would be “inappropriate to anticipate the outcome” as the regulatory process is currently ongoing.
Some of the brands tested a little over 1ppt, with Topo Chico testing the highest.
But that doesn’t mean that brands that aren’t on the list are worse or better. As long as safety regulations are largely voluntary, it will continue to be difficult for consumers to identify the safest products. The popular La Croix brand, for example, continues to top the list of the best sparkling water, and a dietitian-curated women’s health best-of in 2019 included several of the brands on the list of consumer reports, including Perrier, La Croix, and Bubly.
To ensure safety, consumers can inquire directly with brands for testing and safety measures if information is not available on their websites and stay away from other possible PFAS exposures like choosing non-toxic, non-stick cookware. Another option is to make your own sparkling water. With products such as Aarke Premium Carbonator and DrinkMate, you can make sparkling water at the push of a button if required. And they solve another problem that bottled water cannot solve, no matter how clean the water is: no more plastic bottle waste.
Based on bio-authority
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