Arsenic found in bottled water sold by Whole Foods and Walmart

Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from Starkey Water.

A recent study by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has revealed high levels of metal arsenic in two brands of bottled water sold by Whole Foods and Walmart. 

Last month, the organization announced that it had discovered large amounts of the toxic contaminant in Starkey, which is owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, which is owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and sold at various Walmart locations. The findings confirm an earlier study that was conducted by Consumer Reports three months ago. 

In a release, Michael Green, CEH's CEO, condemned the companies involved for putting the public's health at risk. 

"Consumers are being needlessly exposed to arsenic without their knowledge or consent," he said. "Customers typically purchase bottled water at exorbitantly high costs with the assumption that it is safer and healthier to drink than tap water, unaware that they are ingesting an extremely toxic metal linked to birth defects and cancer."

In fact, when ingested, arsenic — a natural element found in the earth's crust — can affect several organs and systems, including the nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, immune and endocrine systems, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In the U.S., the maximum level of inorganic arsenic that is allowed in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). 

In April, however, Consumer Reports noted that it had found levels of arsenic in Starkey water that were dangerously close to — and even over — the federal limit. 

"Three samples tested this month ranged from 9.48 to 9.86 ppb of arsenic; a fourth registered 10.1 ppb, just above the federal limit of 10 ppb," wrote Ryan Felton, an investigative reporter at the magazine. 

In response, a spokesperson for Whole Foods Market played down the magazine's findings in a statement.

"At Starkey Water, our highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality and refreshing spring water," the statement read. "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, and our test results from the same lot analyzed by Consumer Reports show that these products are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals. We would never sell products that do not meet FDA requirements."

Keurig Dr Pepper, on the other hand, confirmed to Consumer Reports in April that the arsenic level in its Peñafiel water, which is imported from Mexico, averaged at around 17 ppb. The company said it immediately stopped production of the brand following the discovery, Felton wrote.

Still, the CEH claimed in its June release that both Whole Foods and Keurig Dr Pepper had long been aware of the high levels of arsenic in their water prior to this year's findings. The organization has since sent legal notices to both companies in an attempt "to create a legally binding standard that will protect consumers from the risks posed by arsenic in the growing bottled water industry." 

"There is no place for arsenic in bottled water," said Caroline Cox, a scientist at CEH. "Bottled water companies need to take the necessary steps to remove this toxic metal from their products, and retailers should stop selling them now. Until those conditions are met, we recommend consumers avoid purchasing Whole Foods’ Starkey and Dr Pepper’s Peñafiel."

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