Topo Chico Cuts PFAS Levels by More Than Half in New Tests by Consumer Reports
The popular carbonated water brand still had levels above a cutoff recommended by scientists and advocates
Coca-Cola has reduced the level of PFAS chemicals in Topo Chico Mineral Water, the beverage maker’s popular sparkling mineral water, according to new tests by Consumer Reports. But those levels are still above a cutoff that some scientists and consumer advocates believe is more appropriate for drinking water, including bottled water.
Last fall, CR tested 47 bottled water products for various contaminants, including PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a chemical class that includes approximately 5,000 substances that have been linked to learning delays in children and cancer. Among the 12 carbonated and 35 non-carbonated products CR originally tested, PFAS levels ranged from non-detect to Topo Chico’s 9.76 parts per trillion (ppt), making it the highest of the products we looked at.
Ronholm says the tests show that an enforceable federal limit on PFAS in bottled water should be implemented.
But the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water in the U.S., told CR last year that it would not set legal limits for PFAS in bottled water—at least for now—saying it would be “premature” to do so. The IBWA supports the creation of federal limits for PFAS in bottled water, and it requires the organization’s members to have no more than 5 ppt for any single PFAS compound and 10 ppt for more than one.
The FDA’s oversight of bottled water is complicated, however.
The agency’s regulations—which include strict limits on the level of contaminants that can be present in a bottled water product—generally pertain to non-carbonated brands. The FDA considers many carbonated bottled waters to fall under the category of “soft drinks,” which are exempt from such limits.
But if a carbonated bottled water brand claims to use a source of water that’s covered by federal law, like spring or mineral water, it is covered by the FDA’s bottled water regulations. As such, for example, Topo Chico—sourced from mineral water—is regulated as bottled water.
The IBWA—which represents bottlers including Danone and Nestlé—first called on the FDA to set limits for PFAS in a letter in early November 2019, saying it should set an enforceable legal standard that mirrors what the group requires of its members. But the agency responded that it would be unnecessary to set a limit for PFAS chemicals in bottled water.
“Establishing a [standard] for PFAS in bottled water at this time would not significantly enhance FDA's mission of public health protection,” Paul South, director of the FDA's division of plant products and beverages, told the IBWA in a written response.
The Coca-Cola spokesperson tells CR that the manufacturer supports a national standard for PFAS covering both municipal and bottled water. (The company utilizes municipal water supplies as the source for some Coke brands.)
"We urge Congress, regulators and other stakeholders to work together to develop an evidence based national standard," the spokesperson says.
Ronholm says that the number of brands in CR’s tests with total PFAS levels below 1 ppt shows it’s possible to get to more protective levels.
But he also called on the FDA to reevaluate whether all carbonated bottled water brands should be covered by the agency’s standards.
"It doesn't make sense that there are different standards for bottled water and carbonated water,” he says. “The reasoning that it's easier to maintain these different standards since they were already in place seems short-sighted and does not serve consumers.”