Bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods and sold under the name brand Starkey Spring Water contains “potentially harmful levels of arsenic,” according to Consumer Reports. The report estimates that arsenic levels in the water are as much as three times what is found in other brands.
Though low levels of arsenic are often naturally occurring in bottled water, the levels in the Whole Foods water is especially concerning. According to Consumer Reports, even small traces of arsenic consumed over time creates an increased risk for a variety of health concerns. Arsenic exposure has also been shown to result in lower IQ scores for children.
Whole Foods responded to the accusations published by Consumer Reports by pointing out that its water’s arsenic levels are still within federal guidelines. Consumer Reports has been trying to reduce the acceptable level citing health and safety reasons.
Consumer Reports identified the elevated levels in the Whole Foods water while testing 45 bottled water brands. The other tests resulted in “undetectable amounts of arsenic.” Consumer Reports points out that these tests show that it is possible to achieve lower levels and make bottled drinking water safer.
Ongoing Legal Issues for Starkey Spring Water
This is not the first time the safety of Starkey Spring Water has been called into question.
In 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed regarding the water’s high levels of arsenic. Prior to that, Whole Foods recalled over 200 cases of the water after Florida officials found high levels of arsenic in 2016 and 2017. There are also two pending lawsuits regarding the brand’s health labeling.
The current round of tests on Starkey Springs Water showed 9.8 ppb of arsenic in the water. It ranked second-highest out of the 130 bottled water brands tested. The current test showed the water contained. Whole Food’s internal testing showed levels of up to 9 ppb.
Whole Foods defended itself in a statement to the Washington Post saying its products “… meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.” The FDA guidelines state that levels of arsenic must be below 10 ppb to be safe.
The company also pointed out that arsenic occurs naturally in water, a statement that, while true, calls into question why levels are so much higher in Starkey Springs than in other brands. The research included in the Consumer Reports article claims that health risks from arsenic exposure are increased even when levels are below 10 ppb. Some states have even created more stringent guidelines regarding tap water than those issued by the federal government and limit safe arsenic levels to 5 ppb or below.
According to the CDC, “unusually large doses of inorganic arsenic” can lead to:
- Skin disorders
- An increased risk of diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Several types of cancer
Consumer Reports has long made it a mission to improve the quality of bottled water. For years the group has been an advocate for reducing permissible levels of arsenic to 3 ppb. The group believes that if levels were lowered, it would prevent companies from citing federal guidelines as a defense when their products pose a risk to consumers. The group wants bottled water companies working to eradicate arsenic in drinking water.
Concerns about Bottled Water Increasing
Questionable arsenic levels are one of several issues consumer safety and other groups have with bottled water.
Many have pointed out that bottled water quality is often lower than tap water. Others are concerned about the plastic waste associated with bottled water consumption. According to data, consumption of bottled water in the United States rose nearly 300% between 1994 and 2017. Americans consume approximately 42 gallons per person annually, most of which come from single-service plastic bottles. Some companies have made a partial or complete transition to refillable dispensing machines or alternative types of packaging in an effort to reduce plastic waste.
Consumer Reports is hoping that its ongoing testing efforts will lead to companies improving the safety and quality of their bottled water. The group tested 21 fruit juices on the market in 2011 and since them, heavy metal contaminant levels have dropped. The hope is the same will soon happen in the bottled water industry.