Compared to spring water products, most filtered water has much less PFAS. This is because refined brands use treatment methods like reverse osmosis.
There have been calls for the federal government to establish guidelines for the chemicals after some noncarbonated bottled water products tested as part of a new study found potentially hazardous PFAS compounds.
The Johns Hopkins University study, which was published in the journal Water Research, found PFAS chemicals in 39 out of more than 100 bottled waters tested, sometimes at levels that water quality experts judged alarming.
Which brands were tested were not disclosed by the study. However, they did discover that “spring” water, which is not filtered using reverse osmosis, contains less PFAS overall than bottled waters branded as “purified,” which are normally filtered by that process.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of about 5,000 chemicals that have been connected to cancer and developmental problems in children. The compounds, which are found in many consumer products, are referred to as “forever chemicals” because the bonds holding them together are difficult for the environment to degrade.
Given the regularity of PFAS detection and the seldom identification of excessive amounts of PFAS, the study’s co-author and Johns Hopkins professor of public health Kellogg Schwab, Ph.D., thinks that regulatory monitoring of the source waters for bottled water is necessary.
The latest study comes in the wake of a Consumer Reports investigation from the previous year, which discovered PFAS in various bottled waters, both carbonated and noncarbonated, including well-known labels like Topo Chico Mineral Water. Coca-Cola, the maker of Topo Chico, improved its filtration equipment following the release of CR’s test results, which decreased the amount of PFAS in the final product.
The conclusions of this study have strengthened my resolve to guarantee the safety of bottled water. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut
Limits for PFAS in bottled water have not yet been established by the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the industry in the United States. According to an FDA spokeswoman, the organization is analyzing the findings. The FDA “believes that setting a standard of quality for PFAS in bottled water at the time would not materially enhance the FDA’s objective of protecting the public health,” the official added.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees tap water, has not yet established PFAS guidelines, it has issued voluntary guidance urging water utilities to keep PFAS concentrations to no more than 70 parts per trillion. A significantly lower level of 1 ppt is considered reasonable by some scientists.
In total, 19 of the brands examined for the Water Research study had PFAS levels greater than 1 ppt.
There are PFAS guidelines in place that members of the International Bottled Water Association, a trade association that represents various bottled water producers, must follow: no more than 5 ppt for any one PFAS chemical, and a total of 10 ppt for more than one.
The vast majority of the brands examined by the Johns Hopkins researchers had PFAS results “far below” the IBWA standard of 5 ppt for one PFAS, according to Jill Culora, spokeswoman for the IBWA. The combined limit of 10 ppt for the IBWA was exceeded by three samples.
According to this study’s findings, the majority of bottled water is devoid of per and polyfluoroalkyl compounds.
Nevertheless, Culora asserts that the IBWA backs the FDA’s proposal for PFAS guidelines that were made last month by a bipartisan group of legislators. The legislators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., claimed in a letter to the agency that many people turn to bottled water when their tap water becomes tainted with chemicals like PFAS. (A spokesman for the FDA claims that the organization is evaluating the letter and will write to the lawmakers.)
The conclusions of this analysis “redouble my desire to ensure bottled water is safe,” Blumenthal tells CR. “Unconscionably, there are presently no defined federal restrictions on these dangerous chemicals in bottled water, despite their grave health hazards.”
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Particularly, the recent study highlighted issues with the more recent PFAS compounds that certain manufacturers are already introducing.
Carbon and fluorine atoms form a chain to form PFAS. Manufacturers have started phasing out so-called long-chain PFAS, which are those with six or more carbon atoms that have been thoroughly researched and related to a variety of health issues, over the past two decades. Many people have started utilizing short-chain PFAS, which industry groups claim to be safer for the environment and public health, in place of those more well-known compounds, such as PFOA and PFOS.
However, according to Michael Hansen, Ph.D., CR Senior Scientist, a preliminary study reveals both short-chain and ultra-short-chain PFAS may pose an equal risk to the public’s health.
According to this study, ultrashort-chain PFAS are extremely prevalent in comparison to other PFAS and must be tested for in order to have a more accurate picture of the total amount of PFAS present.
At least 15 of the 32 PFAS types that were tested for in the Water Research study were found. The Johns Hopkins scientists found that 42 percent of all PFAS detected in the experiments were the ultrashort-chain substance PFPrA.
Ultrashort-chain PFAS, according to Hansen, seems to be extremely mobile, particularly in water, persistent in the environment, and hazardous.
According to Hansen’s study, ultrashort-chain PFAS are highly prevalent in comparison to other PFAS and should unquestionably be tested in order to have a more realistic picture of the total amount of PFAS present.
Things to Know
One important finding from the current study is that spring water products and bottled waters labeled “purified” contained “much less PFAS,” which the researchers attributed to the use of treatment methods like reverse osmosis.
The study’s co-author and postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins, Steven Chow, says the data point to generally low PFAS levels in bottled water. However, he claims that a strict testing schedule for source water supplies by regulators would help guarantee that bottled water products with high amounts of PFAS are kept off the market.
For instance, after tests indicated elevated levels of PFAS in products on shop shelves, Massachusetts officials issued a public warning concerning bottled spring water sold at Whole Foods Market and CVS and originating from a spring on a farm in the state in 2019.
We believe it’s prudent to have a testing system in place to make sure that these kinds of samples are not sold to customers, according to Chow.
Consumers who are worried about the presence of PFAS in bottled water are advised by CR Hansen to opt for products that have been purified using procedures like reverse osmosis. This is how purified bottled water is often handled.