Labels from Peñafiel Bottled Water

Keurig Dr Pepper on Friday voluntarily withdrew for sale all its unflavored Peñafiel Mineral Spring Water after tests commissioned by the company detected excessive levels of arsenic. Consumer Reports had earlier detected levels of arsenic in the water above federal standards and notified the company, in an investigation published in April.

The manufacturer said in a press release issued late Friday that it was taking the action “due to the presence of violative levels of arsenic.”

“Arsenic when present in the diet at very high levels, well above those detected in recent samples of Peñafiel, is associated with numerous chronic diseases,” the press release said.

But the company said that tests of the product by an independent laboratory identified levels that exceeded the Food and Drug Administration’s arsenic standard for bottled water of 10 parts per billion (ppb). And research suggests that long-term exposure to even low levels of arsenic can increase the risk of cancer and other health problems.

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The withdrawal of the product follows a series of articles by CR that showed that regulators have identified high levels of arsenic in Peñafiel since as early as 2009. CR’s tests for our April investigation found an average of 18.1 ppb of arsenic in three samples of Peñafiel. After CR reached out, Keurig told us it conducted tests of its own and found a similar level of arsenic—about 17 ppb—but said it would not remove the product from the market. 

They company did say, however, that it would suspend production for two weeks to enhance filtration of the product that was imported into the U.S. The statement Friday said that the action was being conducted “with the knowledge of the U.S. FDA.”

CR reached out to the FDA for comment, but the agency did not respond in time for publication.

When asked by CR why Keurig Dr Pepper decided to act now, a company spokesperson said, “we have been in contact with the FDA throughout this process and are taking this action following additional consultation with the agency.” The spokesperson did not elaborate.

“It’s about time,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at Consumer Reports. “We urge all food and beverage companies to eliminate arsenic and heavy metals in their products to the greatest extent possible and to immediately get products with concerning levels off the market.”

In the press release, Keurig characterized Peñafiel as a “small brand in the U.S.” But the product has been “growing at a double-digit rate year over year,” Gary Hemphill, managing director of research at the analyst Beverage Marketing Corporation, recently told CR. In 2018, Keurig sold 2 million cases of Peñafiel in the U.S., Hemphill told CR, including flavored and unflavored products.

CR’s reporting found that the FDA had taken swift action in the past to request a voluntary recall of other brands that had high levels of arsenic in bottled water. 

Keurig Dr Pepper’s action follows a rocky month for its Peñafiel brand. A consumer filed a federal lawsuit in early June against the company, citing CR’s reporting. And the Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit organization based in California, announced its intention to sue Keurig this week; the CEH says it conducted its own tests, which also found elevated levels of arsenic in Peñafiel.

The withdrawal issued Friday covers all unflavored Peñafiel, including 600-milliliter and 1.5-liter varieties in plastic PET bottle formats. Consumers who have the product can return it to their retailer for a full refund, according to the company’s press release. “We don’t have a timetable to resume distribution in the U.S.,” the spokesperson said.

Keurig says it has already notified retailers that it will assist them in removing the product from the marketplace. No other Keurig products are covered at this time.