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The average person living in a temperate climate requires approximately two liters of water each day for optimal metabolic function. Many people meet their water needs with bottled water. As a result, the bottled water industry in the United States is robust, with consumers spending more than $30 billion per year on water products. Findings from a recent Consumer Reports study indicate that some bottled water products contain heavy metals and harmful compounds called PFAS.

Heavy metals are naturally occurring metallic elements that adversely affect human health. They enter the environment by natural means and through human activities. In very low concentrations, heavy metals maintain various biochemical and physiological functions, but at higher concentrations are often toxic. The most commonly found heavy metals in the environment include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. The FDA sets standards for acceptable levels of heavy metals in foods and beverages.

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals used in a variety of applications, including food packaging, household products, and drinking water, among others. Exposure to PFAS is linked to low birth weight, altered immune function, and cancer. Unlike some harmful synthetic compounds, PFAS are not excreted in bodily fluids like sweat or urine; rather, they persist in the body for indefinite periods and are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” The federal government and industry groups have set widely differing standards for acceptable levels of PFAS in water.

The authors of the study tested two to four samples of 47 bottled waters (35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated) for the presence of heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury). They also tested the products for the presence of 30 PFAS.

They found that all but one of the noncarbonated water products had heavy metal levels well below federal safety limits, but nearly all of the products showed measurable levels of PFAS. The carbonated water products also had heavy metal levels that were below federal safety limits, but many of the products showed measurable levels of PFAS.

These findings suggest that carbonated water products are sources of exposure to PFAS and underscore the importance of establishing federally mandated limits for PFAS in bottled drinking water products.

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