Consumer Reports still has a knack for finding something hiding in plain sight that many people will find outrageous. The find this time is bottled Starkey Spring Water manufactured by Whole Foods and also sold by Amazon. It’s the arsenic king of bottled water.
The problem with Starkey bottled water is that it contains harmful levels of arsenic.
Recent testing by CR found Starkey with “concerning levels” of arsenic, ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion (ppb) or at least three times the level of every other brand tested.
Starkey is barely legal, coming in at just under the government’s maximum for arsenic, which is 10 ppb. CR sees the maximum as too as high to protect public health and it seems most water bottlers would agree.
James Dickerson, CR’s chief scientific officer, says that regular consumption of even small amounts of heavy metal over time can contribute to risks for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, lower IQ scores in children, and other health issues.
As recently as 2019, CR tests of Starkey’s arsenic content was over or close to over the limit. A 10.1 ppb level was recorded at that time, along with three other samples that ranged from 9,48 to 9.86 ppb.
Two consumer lawsuits cited CR’s test results from 2019.
CR announced the latest findings on Starkey’s arsenic content as part of a project on the need for safe, clean, and affordable water. “I think the average consumer would be stunned to learn that they’re paying a lot of extra for bottled water, thinking that it’s significantly safer than tap, and unknowingly getting potentially dangerous levels of arsenic,” said Natural Resources Defense Council’s Erick Olson.
The NRDF studies water quality and Olson is the organization’s health and food director.
Two states, New Jersey and New Hampshire have lowered their maximums for arsenic to 5 ppb, but it only applies to tap water. CR findings point to health risks that can emerge below the 10 ppb limit.
Tap water in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It permits the states to impose stricter limits. Bottled water, however, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FDA is not open to any state imposing more stringent arsenic levels.
As long as Whole Foods keeps Starkey’s arsenic level under 10 ppb, it is meeting the FDA’s heaving metal standard. An FDA spokesman told CR “it is not possible to remove arsenic entirely from the environment or food supply.”
FDA last updated its maximum arsenic level 15 years ago.
CR’s new round of tests found many of 45 brands with undetectable amounts of arsenic. Starkey Spring Water was the only brand that exceeded 3 ppb. CR’s Brian Ronholm said that shows lower levels can be achieved.
Ronholm is a former USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety and is currently CR’s director of food policy. He says FDA’s standard needs to be updated “to be more consistent with public health goals.”
Shortly after Starkey Spring Water was introduced by Whole Foods in 2015, Florida notified FDA that it tested out for arsenic at 11.7 ppb. Others reported Starkey arsenic content at 12 ppb. Two thousand cases were recalled in 2016-17 for high arsenic.
Local water utilities at least annually test their own tap water and make the report available to anyone who requests a copy.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)