Does Bottled Water have Pfas? – A Research Study.

Statistics from the industry show that Americans drink more bottled water than coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, or any other kind of drink. They drink billions of gallons of bottled water every year.

Concerns concerning the contents of the bottle have been raised because of such impressive thirst.

Some non-carbonated bottled water sold in the U.S. and tested as part of a new study were found to have PFAS chemicals that could be toxic. This led to calls for the federal government to set rules about these chemicals.

The study, which was published in the journal Water Research and led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, found PFAS chemicals in 39 of the more than 100 bottled waters that were tested. In some cases, the levels of these chemicals were high enough to worry experts on water quality.

The study didn’t say what brands were looked at. But the researchers did find that “purified” bottled water, which is usually filtered through reverse osmosis, had less PFAS than “spring” water, which isn’t filtered that way.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of chemicals with about 5,000 compounds that have been linked to cancer and learning delays in children. The compounds are called “forever chemicals” because the bonds that hold them together don’t break down easily in the environment. They are used in a lot of consumer goods.

“Our findings support the need for regulatory testing of bottled water source waters, given the frequency of PFAS detection and the occasional detection of elevated levels of PFAS,” says Kellogg Schwab, PhD, professor of public health at Johns Hopkins and director of the university’s Water Institute, who co-wrote the study.

The new research comes after an investigation by Consumer Reports that was published last year. That investigation found PFAS in a number of bottled waters, including popular brands like Topo Chico Mineral Water. After CR’s test results came out, Coca-Cola upgraded its filtration systems for Topo Chico, which cut down on the amount of PFAS in the product.

The results of this study make me even more determined to make sure that bottled water is safe.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of bottled water in the U.S., has not yet set limits for PFAS in bottled water. A spokesperson for the FDA says the study is being looked at by the agency. But, a spokesperson for the agency said, “the agency believes that setting a quality standard for PFAS in bottled water at the time would not help the FDA’s mission of protecting public health very much.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of regulating tap water, has not yet set rules for PFAS, but it has asked water utilities to limit the amount of PFAS in their water to 70 parts per trillion. Some scientists think that the limit should be set at 1 ppt, which is much lower.

In the Water Research study, 19 of the brands tested had more than 1 ppt of PFAS.

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The International Bottled Water Association is a trade group that represents many companies that make bottled water. It has PFAS standards that its members must follow: no more than 5 ppt for a single PFAS compound and 10 ppt for all of them together.

Jill Culora, a spokeswoman for the IBWA, says that most of the brands tested by the Johns Hopkins researchers had PFAS levels “well below” the standard of 5 ppt for one PFAS set by her organization. The IBWA has a total limit of 10 ppt that three samples went over.

“This study found that most bottled water does not contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” she says.

Still, Culora says that the IBWA agrees with a group of lawmakers from both parties who asked the FDA last month to make PFAS standards that can be enforced by the law. In a letter to the agency, the lawmakers, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that when chemicals like PFAS get into tap water, many people buy bottled water instead. (A spokesperson for the FDA said that the agency is looking over the letter and will get back to the legislators.)

“It’s outrageous that there are no federal limits on these dangerous chemicals in bottled water, even though they pose serious health risks,” Blumenthal tells CR. “The findings of this report make me even more determined to make sure bottled water is safe.”

PFAS with a “Ultrashort-Chain”

Concerns were raised by the new study, in particular, about newer PFAS compounds that are now being made by some companies.

Carbon and fluorine atoms are linked together to make PFAS. Over the past 20 years, manufacturers have started to phase out what are called “long-chain PFAS.” These are chemicals that have six or more carbon atoms and have been linked to a wide range of health problems. Instead of chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, which are better known, many companies have started to use short-chain PFAS, which industry groups say are safer for the environment and public health.

But Michael Hansen, PhD, a senior scientist at CR, says that early research shows that short-chain and ultrashort-chain PFAS may be just as dangerous to public health.

This study shows that ultrashort-chain PFAS are more common than other PFAS and should be tested for to get a better idea of how many PFAS are in the environment as a whole.

The study by Water Research looked for 32 different kinds of PFAS and found at least 15. The ultrashort-chain compound called PFPrA made up 42% of all the PFAS found in the tests, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.

Hansen says that ultrashort-chain PFAS seem to move around a lot, especially in water, stay in the environment for a long time, and are dangerous.

Hansen says, “This study shows that ultrashort-chain PFAS are very common compared to other PFAS. They should be tested for in order to get a more accurate picture of the total amount of PFAS present.”

What’s Important

One important thing to learn from the new study is that bottled waters labeled “purified” had “significantly less PFAS” than spring water products. The researchers said this was because reverse osmosis was used to clean the water.

Steven Chow, a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins who worked on the study, says that their results suggest that PFAS levels in bottled water are generally low. But, he says, a strict testing schedule for source water supplies by the government would help make sure that bottled water products with high levels of PFAS are kept off the market.

In 2019, for example, regulators in Massachusetts warned the public about bottled spring water from a spring on a farm in the state that was sold at Whole Foods Market and CVS because tests showed that the water had high levels of PFAS.

“We think it’s smart to have a testing framework in place to make sure that consumers can’t buy these kinds of samples,” says Chow.

Hansen from CR says that people who are worried about PFAS in bottled water should look for products that have been treated with processes like reverse osmosis. Most of the time, this is how purified bottled water is handled.

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