Industry group counters Consumer Reports study



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An industry trade group is taking issue with Consumer Reports’ recent study of arsenic in bottled water. 

Consumer Reports scientists tested 45 brands between February and May of this year, it says in the report released this week. Only one brand – Starkey Spring Water, made and sold by Whole Foods Market in most of its stores and on – was found to exceed 3 parts per billion. The research and media outlet’s called the arsenic levels “potentially harmful.”

Starkey Spring Water had arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 ppb, Consumer Reports’ tests found. Federal regulations require arsenic levels below 10 ppb.

The International Bottled Water Association labeled as “misleading and false” the study from Consumer Reports and the U.S. edition of the Guardian, which is teaming with Consumer Reports on a project about access to clean, affordable water.

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Starkey Spring Water’s arsenic test results were below the limit required by the Food and Drug Administration, the IBWA said in a statement Friday.

The way the test results were portrayed was misleading, says IBWA spokesperson Jill Culora. “Consumer Reports and the Guardian are unnecessarily scaring consumers about the safety of bottled water,” she said in a statement. “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.”

USA TODAY has reached out to Starkey Spring Water, but the company did not return a request for comment. Whole Foods, in a statement sent to USA TODAY, said, “At Starkey Water, our highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality and refreshing 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. These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.”

USA TODAY also reached out to Consumer Reports for comment, but the company did not offer any new commentary on the situation.

Arsenic does occur naturally and can be found in water but can be filtered out. Bottled water from groundwater sources such as spring water – Starkey Spring Water is bottled in Idaho – may contain naturally occurring arsenic.

But the IBWA and Consumer Reports disagree on the suitability of the FDA’s arsenic regulations. “Regardless of the type, bottled water that meets the 10-ppb FDA arsenic standard is safe,” the IBWA said.

Consumer Reports described Starkey Springs Water’s arsenic levels as “potentially harmful,” adding that its experts believe the FDA’s regulations do not “adequately protect public health.”

Two states, New Jersey and New Hampshire have set stricter rules of 5 ppb for drinking water. Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic can increase the risk of certain cancers and may be linked to heart disease and diabetes, researchers have found.

“Continued exposure to other water with arsenic levels over 5 ppb could lead to health concerns, too,” said Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in a statement to USA TODAY.

The program contributed data that informed state officials’ decision to reduce the state’s allowable arsenic level in public drinking water last year. “Keeping your arsenic exposure as low as possible based on how you could be exposed through water, food or other sources will reduce your long-term health risk,” the statement said.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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