IBWA response to Consumer Reports article on arsenic in bottled water
A recent Consumer Reports article regarding arsenic in bottled water (April 2019) contains several false and misleading statements, makes claims that are not based on sound science, and unnecessarily scares consumers about the safety of bottled water.
Consumers can remain confident that bottled water products, like all food and beverages, are strictly and comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, thus, are safe for consumption. The bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products.
- 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 if they meet all FDA regulations.
- By federal law, FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be as stringent as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for tap water. The FDA standard of quality for arsenic in bottled water is 10 parts per billion (ppb), which means FDA concluded that—based on the best available science—the current limit protects the public health. And FDA sets limits that are lower than the level at which harm would likely occur, which the bottled water industry fully supports.
- As with other food products, bottled water that does not meet all applicable laws and regulations is subject to FDA enforcement actions, including recalls, warning letters, and product seizures. This helps ensure that adulterated or mislabeled products do not reach consumers. As IBWA states in the Consumer Reports article, any bottled water product that doesn’t meet the FDA arsenic regulation should not be allowed to be sold.
- EPA has also established a 10-ppb standard for arsenic in tap water. And both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) have the same 10 ppb standard for arsenic in drinking water.
- Of the 130 bottled water brands tested by Consumer Reports, only two exceeded the FDA standard for arsenic. While even one bottled water product exceeding the FDA standard is too many, it is important to note that the vast majority of bottled water products sold in the U.S. are below the 10-ppb limit.
- Without any sound scientific evidence to support its view, Consumer Reports arbitrarily states that the FDA limit for arsenic in bottled water should be 3 ppb and then falsely claims that products that exceed this level are unsafe. The article states that research “suggests” that there are health risks associated with arsenic exposure at less than 10 ppb. However, the studies mentioned in the article describe only “relationships” and “associations,” but they do not show causal links that support a 3 ppb-standard.
- 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.
- The article notes that the number of inspections at bottled water plants has declined in recent years. As we told Consumer Reports, under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was enacted in 2011, FDA is now ranking food products by risk and determining frequencies of inspections based on that risk level. Bottled water is considered by FDA to be low risk for food safety. FDA allocates inspection resources according to the risk profiles of facilities, which would take into account the type of food, the facility’s history of recalls and violations, the rigor of the facility’s hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls, and other criteria as deemed appropriate.
Under FSMA, domestic food facilities designated as high risk must be inspected not less than once every three years and domestic food facilities determined not to be high risk (which includes bottled water) must be inspected not less than once every five years. It should also be noted that in meeting this domestic inspection frequency requirement, FDA may rely on inspections conducted by other federal, state, or local agencies. And many state regulatory agencies inspect bottled water plants annually.
- 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 U.S. (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 two decades 85 percent of the sales growth for bottled water is the result of a “consumer shift” mostly from sugar-sweetened beverages and juice to bottled water.
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. Bottled water, like all food and beverages, is strictly regulated by FDA, and experts who work for FDA have concluded that—based on the best available science—the current 10 ppb standard for arsenic in bottled water protects the public health. In fact, FDA sets limits that are lower than the level at which harm would likely occur, which the bottled water industry fully supports. The EPA, which regulates tap water, has also established a 10-ppb standard for arsenic.
For more information about bottled water, visit IBWA’s website: www.bottledwater.org.
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.