Whole Foods Bottled Water Found to Contain Potentially Dangerous Levels of Arsenic

Photo: Tim Boyle, Getty
Photo: Tim Boyle, Getty

A recent investigation into arsenic contamination levels in bottled water has found that a brand sold by Whole Foods — and, by extension, on Amazon — contains high levels of the toxic metal, butting up against the federal cap for maximum contamination. And not everyone agrees that the federal cap is safe enough.

A new Consumer Reports investigation found that Starkey Spring Water, which is sold by both retailers in stores and online, contain arsenic levels of between 9.49 and 9.56 parts per billion. The FDA requires bottled waters to meet a 10 parts per billion (ppb) standard for arsenic contamination, meaning the company hovers slightly below the FDA’s approved levels. But that does not necessarily make the water safe, Consumer Reports argues, at least not if consumed regularly.

Its chief scientific officer James Dickerson, Ph.D., said that “regular consumption of even small amounts of the heavy metal over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and lower IQ scores in children, and poses other health issues as well.” The organisation said that of the 45 bottled water brands it tested this year, many had no detectable amounts of arsenic whatsoever.

Reached for comment, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson said the company’s “highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality” spring water.

“Beyond the required annual testing by an FDA certified lab, we have an accredited third-party lab test every production run of water before it is sold,” the spokesperson said. “These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.”

Consumer Reports has previously requested the FDA lower the standard for arsenic in bottled water from 10 ppb to just 3 ppb. Given a reasonable consumer expectation that bottled water is safer to drink than municipal drinking water, the organisation argued, the agency “can and should set the bottled water standard below the federal drinking water standard.” New Jersey, for example, has since 2006 enforced a maximum contaminant level of 5 parts per billion.

Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment about the report. As of this writing, the water still appeared on Amazon’s marketplace as available for purchase.

This isn’t too surprising for Amazon, which is notorious for failing to adequately police the products available on its marketplace (or Whole Foods, either, as Starkey water has been recalled in the past over arsenic contamination). But it is one more reason to be wary of items purchased through the e-commerce giant. By Amazon’s own admission, it has a problem with vetting products on its platform. This week, the company launched a Counterfeit Crimes Unit to help curb fraudulent listings on its site. Unfortunately, bad bottled water doesn’t fit under this umbrella.