Water Quality: Although many people buy water bottles to support their health, the latest consumer report has found bottled water may be loaded with harmful chemicals, including PFAs and heavy metals. Find out why bottled water may be just as dangerous as tap water and what you can do to drink clean water safely.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Water Quality and Health
As beings made up dominantly of water, it’s no surprise that water plays a significant role in generating health or disease in the human body 1. Many people choose water as a healthy option for getting hydrated, but ongoing science suggests that simply choosing water isn’t enough. The quantity of water we consume matters, but so does the quality 2.
Water quality can be understood on a scale, like most things. Water is not either “good” or “bad,” but many different factors come into play to know how healthy the water you’re drinking may be.
For instance, untreated water could be tainted with parasites or bacteria. This is often the case in more stagnant wild water sources, like lakes and ponds. Although free-flowing water like a stream or a spring may tend to be less contaminated by natural pollutants, it may also be contaminated by human intervention, like from farm run-off.
Although tap and bottled water are treated to prevent such contaminations, the problems don’t stop there. In tap water, the treatment is often a part of the newfound problem: chemicals like chlorine that, when consumed regularly, can lead to imbalances in gut bacteria 3. In addition, since many harmful substances like pharmaceutical drugs and heavy metals aren’t always filtered out from tap water, many cities have significant traces of metals or medications like antidepressants and birth control pills coming right out of the tap 4!
Bottled water may seem like the solution, but alas, it has its flaws as well. First off, many companies aren’t divulging with honesty what quality of water they are bottling, and then the materials chosen to encase the water might also be adding to the toxic load of the bottled water (plastic, being an obvious example).
Consumer Report and Plastic Water Bottles
A 2020 Consumer Report tested 47 bottled waters, including 35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated ones. Two to four samples were taken for each water, and they tested for 34 factors. These factors included four heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury), as well as 30 PFAS chemicals 5.
What are PFAs?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are artificial chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other substances. These chemicals are concerning to humans and the planet’s health because they do not break down over time, and bioaccumulate 6. This means that as they are consumed, these chemicals build up in your body and can lead to a wide range of ailments and diseases, including reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects.
PFA toxicity build-up has been explicitly linked with: 6
- High cholesterol levels
- Low infant birth weights,
- Adverse effects on the immune system,
- Thyroid hormone disruption
One of the problems with PFAs and toxicity in water bottles, in general, is that many of them are not even legally monitored, disclosed, or capped. Although the Federal government has issued voluntary guidelines for PFAs, nothing is enforced 7.
None of the samples from the Consumer Report contained a clean bill, but most of them were under “recommended guidelines” for heavy metals. Different states have different limits, ranging from 12 to 20 parts per trillion (ppt). The International Bottled Water Association claims that the federal limits for PFAs should be below five ppt, while other experts say levels should be lower than one ppt 8. When it comes to PFAs, many of these toxins are not even regulated at all.
The Consumer Report demonstrated that most of the noncarbonated products CR tested had detectable levels of PFAS. One of the still bottled waters owned by Whole Foods contained 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 parts per billion 5.
Furthermore, although the study looked at 30 PFAs, there are over 5,000 in reality. Again, none of which are regulated at the Federal level. Studies show that these PFAs also contaminate tap water in over 1,400 communities across 49 States 7.
Accessing Quality Water
We’re at a stage in American history where tap and bottled water should probably be treated as toxic unless proven otherwise. So your first option might be testing your home water, which should include not only heavy metals and PFAs, but also chlorine levels, fluoride levels, and traces of pharmaceutical drugs.
You could also opt to just spend that money on a water filtration system for your home. Such a system should go beyond simple jug-type filters, which often don’t remove any of the problematic toxins found in tap water. Instead, a whole-house reverse-osmosis filter is a good option.
When it comes to buying bottled water, plastic is automatically out. The chemicals that leach into your water are detrimental to your health. So if you’re stuck in a pinch, always opt for a glass bottle instead.
If you have access to collecting local spring water, this is undoubtedly the best option. Just make sure the spring gets tested somewhat regularly to ensure it is not being contaminated by pollution.
The Top-Rated Worst Water in America
Out of the bottled water that has been tested by Consumer Reports, the brands that came over 1 part per trillion are:
For still water:
And for sparkling water:
Although many people drink water to stay healthy, you may be causing your body harm depending on the water you drink. Water quality is paramount, as many water sources are contaminated by heavy metals, PFAs, chlorine, pharmaceuticals, and other harmful agents.
Although bottled water may seem like a better option to tap water, Consumer Reports suggest they may be just as toxic. Samples of 47 bottled waters showed staggering toxicity from metals and the Federally unregulated PFAs.
Better options include getting a house water filtration system, consuming bottled water in glass bottles, or collecting spring water from an uncontaminated spring.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
1 “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.” U.S. Department of the Interior, www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.
2 “Learn About Water.” Water Quality Association, www.wqa.org/Learn-About-Water/Common-Contaminants.
3 Martino, David. “The Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water on the Assembly of the Intestinal Microbiome.” Challenges, vol. 10, no. 1, 2019, p. 10., doi:10.3390/challe10010010.
4 Krämer, Katrina. “Prozac and Methamphetamine Likely Responsible for Toxins in Tap Water.” Chemistry World, Chemistry World, 2 Mar. 2020, www.chemistryworld.com/news/prozac-and-methamphetamine-likely-responsible-for-toxins-in-tap-water/4011268.article.
5 Felton, Ryan. “What’s Really in Your Bottled Water?” Consumer Reports, 24 Sept. 2020, www.consumerreports.org/bottled-water/whats-really-in-your-bottled-water/.
6 “Basic Information on PFAS.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency,www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas.
7 Felton, Ryan. “Why Dangerous ‘Forever Chemicals’ Are Still Allowed in America’s Drinking Water.” Consumer Reports, 24 Sept. 2020,www.consumerreports.org/water-quality/why-dangerous-forever-chemicals-are-still-allowed-in-americas-drinking-water/.
8 “BOTTLED WATER & PFAS – Bottled Water: IBWA: Bottled Water.” Bottled Water | IBWA | Bottled Water, 18 May 2021, bottledwater.org/bottled-water-pfas/.