Consumer Reports article misleads the public about arsenic in bottled water

June 25, 2020

Alexandria, VA – An article published by Consumer Reports and the Guardian (US edition) falsely claims that one brand of bottled water (among 45 brands tested) contains high levels of arsenic, said the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

The fact is, the arsenic test results for the brand, Starkey Spring Water, fully meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which strictly regulates bottled water. Moreover, all 45 bottled water brands tested by Consumer Reports had arsenic levels below the FDA limit.

“Consumer Reports and the Guardian are unnecessarily scaring consumers about the safety of bottled water,” said Jill Culora, IBWA’s vice president of communications. “Consumers can remain confident that bottled water products, like all food and beverages, are strictly and comprehensively regulated by FDA and, thus, are safe for consumption.”

The FDA standard of quality regulation for arsenic in bottled water is 10 parts per billion (ppb), which means that FDA has concluded that, based on the best available science, its current limit protects the public health. FDA intentionally sets limits that are lower than the level at which harm would likely occur, a practice the bottled water industry fully supports. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates tap water, has also established a 10-ppb standard for arsenic. Those agencies are aligned with both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU), which have the same 10-ppb standard for arsenic in drinking water.

The latest Consumer Reports tests showed that many bottled water brands had undetectable amounts of arsenic and only one had more than 3 ppb. Consumer Reports disagrees with the 10-ppb standard of quality for arsenic set by FDA, the federal agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply, and has decided, on its own, that any arsenic test result of 3 ppb or higher is harmful to human health. This is false and misleads consumers about the safety of bottled water.

IBWA is not the only organization taking issue with the alarmist reporting of misleading and false information by Consumer Reports. Forbes, writing about an earlier Consumer Reports article on arsenic in bottled water, had this to say:

·   “…what you really needed to know is that your bottled water is almost certainly just fine.”

·   “This story was a textbook case of how the media can translate factual numbers into exploitive words.”

·   “Consumer Reports pumped up its sentences with steroidal language straight from the let’s-cause-alarm lexicon.”

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance that is widely found in soil, water, and almost all plant and animal life, including the human body. Arsenic can be present at varying levels in many foods and beverages, and these products, like bottled water, are safe to consume and enjoy as long as their levels fall below FDA’s conservative regulation of 10 ppb.

Bottled water products that come from groundwater sources (e.g., spring water) may contain naturally occurring arsenic. Purified bottled waters often have lower arsenic levels due to the treatment processes used to make this type of product. However, regardless of the type, bottled water that meets the 10-ppb FDA arsenic standard is safe.

IBWA supports a consumer’s right to clear, accurate, and comprehensive information about the bottled water products they purchase. Consumers who want to know more about what is in their bottled water product, such as arsenic, should contact the manufacturer and request a water quality report. Many bottlers publish their water quality reports on their websites and/or provide a contact number on their product labels. If a bottled water company does not satisfy a consumer’s request for more information, that consumer can and should choose another brand.

In addition to complying with all FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a requirement that all IBWA bottlers must undergo a mandatory annual plant inspection conducted by an independent, third-party organization.

Bottled water is the No. 1 packaged drink in the United States (by volume) for many reasons, including its great taste, convenience, safety record, and recyclability. But the most prevalent reason why consumers are choosing bottled water is because they are seeking a more health-conscious lifestyle. Bottled water has no sugar, caffeine, or other additives that consumers may want to eliminate or reduce from their diets. Data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation shows that for the past decade 69 percent of the sales growth for bottled water is the result of a “consumer shift,” mostly from consumers choosing bottled water over sugar-sweetened beverages and juice products.

The bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products. Consumers can continue to be confident that there are no health risks associated with drinking bottled water that meets current FDA standards. 

For more information about bottled water, visit www.bottledwater.org.

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Media Contact:
Jill Culora
[email protected]
703.647.4609

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA's membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.

In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.

IBWA is proud to be a partner with Keep America Beautiful and a supporter of Drink Up, an initiative of former First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which encourages Americans to drink more water more often – whether from the tap, a filter, or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.