Three water bottles with a multicolor background.
Photo: Trunk Archive

CR recently tested 47 bottled waters, including 35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated ones. For each product, we tested two to four samples. The tests focused on four heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury), plus 30 PFAS chemicals, which pose special concerns because they can linger in the environment almost indefinitely.

The federal government has issued only voluntary guidance for PFAS, saying the combined amounts for two specific PFAS compounds should be below 70 parts per trillion. A few states have set lower limits, of 12 to 20 ppt, according to American Water Works, an industry group. The International Bottled Water Association, another group, says that it supports federal limits for PFAS and that bottled water should have PFAS levels below 5 ppt for any single compound and 10 ppt for more than one. Some experts say the cutoff for total PFAS levels should be even lower, 1 ppt.

Noncarbonated Water

Most of the noncarbonated products CR tested had detectable levels of PFAS, but only two—Tourmaline Spring and Deer Park—exceeded 1 part per trillion.

More on Water Quality

Tourmaline Spring says the amount of PFAS in its bottled water is below the levels set by the IBWA and all states. Nestlé, which makes Deer Park, says that its most recent testing for the brand indicated undetectable levels of PFAS.

All noncarbonated water that CR tested had heavy metal levels well below federal safety limits, with one exception: Starkey Spring Water, owned by Whole Foods. It had arsenic levels just shy of the federal limit of 10 parts per billion and more than three times as much as CR’s recommended level of 3 ppb.

The company’s “highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality, and refreshing spring water,” Whole Foods says. “These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.”

Carbonated Water

All carbonated water that CR tested fell below legal limits for heavy metals, and none had arsenic levels above CR’s recommended maximum of 3 parts per billion. But many products had measurable amounts of PFAS.

There are a few possible reasons. Phil Brown, at the PFAS Project Lab at Northeastern University in Boston, says the carbonation process could be a factor. The source water could also have more PFAS, or treatment used by some brands doesn’t remove PFAS to below 1 part per trillion.

CR heard back from all companies with PFAS levels above 1 ppt, except for Bubly. La Croix and Canada Dry said levels in their products were well below current standards or requirements. Topo Chico, made by Coca-Cola and with the highest PFAS levels in CR’s tests, said it would “continue to make improvements to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.” Nestlé, maker of Poland Spring and Perrier, said that its recent testing did not detect PFAS and that it supports efforts to set federal limits. LaCroix and Polar challenged how CR arrived at our total PFAS amounts. For details, read CR’s methodology for testing bottled water (PDF).

Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy, says that PFAS in carbonated water highlights the need for the federal government to set science-based limits for PFAS compounds in tap and bottled drinking water. “The fact that so many brands had total PFAS below 1 ppt shows it is feasible to get to more protective levels,” he says.

Noncarbonated
LOWER HEAVY METAL AND PFAS LEVELS
365 Everyday Value
(Whole Foods) Spring Water
Absopure
Purified Water
Alkaline88
Natural Alkaline Water
Aquafina
Natural Purified Water
Arrowhead*
Natural Spring Water
Boxed Water Is Better*
Water
Core
Hydration Natural
Enhanced Water
Crystal Geyser
Natural Spring Water
Dasani
Natural Purified Water
Essentia
Natural Purified Alkaline Water
Evian
Natural Spring Water
Fiji Water
Natural Artesian Water
Flow
Alkaline Spring Water
Good & Gather* (Target)
Purified Drinking Water
Great Value (Walmart)
Natural Purified Water
Ice Mountain
Natural Spring Water
Just
100% Spring Water
Just The Basics
(CVS) Purified Water
Kirkland Signature
(Costco Purified Water)
LifeWtr
Natural Purified Water
Liquid Death
Spring Water
Nestlé Pure Life
Natural Purified Water
Niagara
Natural Purified Water
Ozarka
Natural Spring Water
Pathwater
Purified Water
Penta
Ultra Pure Water
Poland Spring
Natural Spring Water
Saratoga
Natural Spring Water
Smartwater
Natural Enhanced Water
Trader Joe’s
Alkaline Water + Electrolytes
Waiakea
Hawaiian Volcanic Water
Zephyrhills
Natural Spring Water
* Had no detectable PFAS.
TOTAL PFAS OVER 1 PPT
ARSENIC OVER 3 PPB
Deer Park
Natural Spring Water (1.21 ppt)
Tourmaline Spring
Sacred Living Water (4.64 ppt.)
Starkey Spring Water
(Whole Foods) (9.53 ppb)
TOTAL PFAS OVER 1 PPT
Deer Park
Natural Spring Water (1.21 ppt)
Tourmaline Spring
Sacred Living Water (4.64 ppt.)
ARSENIC OVER 3 PPB
Starkey Spring Water
(Whole Foods) (9.53 ppb)
Carbonated
LOWER TOTAL PFAS LEVELS
CARBONATED BRANDS
Sparkling Ice Black Raspberry Sparkling Water
Spindrift Raspberry Lime Sparkling Water
Sanpellegrino Natural Sparkling Mineral Water
Dasani Black Cherry Sparkling Water
Schweppes Lemon Lime Sparkling Water Beverage
TOTAL PFAS
(PARTS PER TRILLION)
Not Detected
0.19
0.31
0.37
0.58
TOTAL PFAS OVER 1 PPT
Perrier Natural Sparkling Mineral Water
La Croix Natural Sparkling Water
Canada Dry Lemon Lime Sparkling Seltzer Water
Poland Spring Zesty Lime Sparkling Water
Bubly Blackberry Sparkling Water
Polar Natural Seltzer Water
Topo Chico Natural Mineral Water
1.1
1.16
1.24
1.66
2.24
6.41
9.76

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the November 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. Bottled water testing for this project was made possible by the Forsythia Foundation, an organization focused on promoting public health and reducing chemical exposure.

America’s Water Crisis

Consumer Reports has a long history of investigating America’s water. In 1974, we published a landmark three-part series (PDF) revealing that water purification systems in many communities had not kept pace with increasing levels of pollution and that many community water supplies might be contaminated. Our work helped lead to Congress enacting the Safe Drinking Water Act in December 1974.

More than 45 years later, America is still struggling with a dangerous divide between those who have access to safe and affordable drinking water and those who don’t. Communities of color often are affected disproportionately by this inequity. Consumer Reports remains committed to exposing the weaknesses in our country’s water system, including raising questions about Americans’ reliance on bottled water as an alternative—and the safety and sustainability implications of this dependence.

In addition to our ongoing investigations into bottled water, we are proud to be partnering with our readers and those of the Guardian US, another institution dedicated to journalism in the public interest, to test for dangerous contaminants in tap water samples from more than 100 communities around the country. The Guardian and CR will also be publishing related content from Ensia, a nonprofit newsroom focused on environmental issues and solutions.

America’s Water Crisis is the name we are jointly giving to this project and the series of articles we co-publish on the major challenges many in the U.S. face getting access to safe, clean, and affordable water. We will share the results of our upcoming test findings with you. In the meantime, you can join our social media conversation around water under the hashtag #waterincrisis.

Gwendolyn Bounds
Chief Content Officer, Consumer Reports