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

Illustration of three bottles of Topo Chico lined up on black and red background Illustration: Consumer Reports

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.

More on PFAS

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), a major bottled water industry group, requires its members to have PFAS levels below 5 ppt for any single PFAS compound and 10 ppt for more than one, and some scientists believe a limit of 1 ppt for total PFAS would be more appropriate.

In response to CR’s findings in the fall, Topo Chico said that it would “continue to make improvements to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.”

Last month, in response to an inquiry about Topo Chico’s comparatively higher levels of PFAS, the company said it had upgraded its filtration system “to ensure the continued safety and quality of Topo Chico into the future.”

Topo Chico has built a cult following over the years, spurring headlines such as 6 Reasons Why People Are Obsessed with Topo Chico on AllRecipes.com. The online publication Mic even went so far as to talk to scientists about why some people love its tastes. Coca-Cola saw the brand's potential and paid $220 million to buy U.S. rights in 2017.

Since then, Topo Chico's growth has continued. Its sales jumped nearly 40 percent in the 12-month period ending in May 2020, according to Beverage Industry, a trade publication, to almost $184 million in sales, making it one of the fastest-growing brands in the industry.

When CR's first PFAS testing was released, Peter Attia, a doctor and podcaster, wrote a lengthy discussion of its implications, specifically for his Topo Chico consumption. "If you know anything about me, you probably know how much I love Topo Chico," he wrote. "I drink it almost every day. Sometimes even a couple of bottles. I might as well bathe in the stuff."

As CR routinely does when it learns a company has made a significant change to its product, we purchased and tested three new samples of Topo Chico Mineral Water and found that the brand had reduced its average level of PFAS to 3.9 ppt.

Though the result still puts Topo Chico among the brands with the most PFAS in CR’s study, the company’s effort to address PFAS contamination in its product is a step in the right direction, says Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy.

“This demonstrates that bottled water manufacturers are more than capable of reducing consumer exposure to PFAS to a significant degree,” Ronholm says.

In response to questions from CR, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said the safety and quality of the company's products is "always our top priority."

"While our products tested below all drinking water limits for PFAS and other criteria currently set by U.S. federal and state regulatory agencies, we continue to make improvements to prepare for more stringent standards in the future," the spokesperson said.

Standard Needed

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.”


Head shot of Ryan Felton, a CR author of investigative reports and special projects

Ryan Felton

I'm an investigative journalist with an appetite to cover anything and everything. My job and goal is to dig into complicated issues that affect people's health, safety, and bottom line. I've covered everything from dangerous tires to subprime lending to corporate malfeasance. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( ryan.felton@consumer.org), or follow me on Twitter ( @ryanfelton) for my contact info on Signal.