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Bottled water made by Whole Foods has high levels of arsenic, tests show

Starkey Spring Water has been flagged in the past for arsenic levels just under or exceeding the federal threshold, according to Consumer Reports

Tests of Starkey Spring Water, which is manufactured by Whole Foods, showed arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion, just shy of the federal cap, according to Consumer Reports. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods and sold in its U.S. stores contains potentially harmful levels of arsenic — at least three times that of every other brand tested and just shy of the federal cap, according to Consumer Reports.

Tests of Starkey Spring Water label showed arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group said. The federal threshold is 10 parts per billion, Consumer Reports said, and of the 45 brands tested from February to May, Starkey was the only one with arsenic levels that exceeded 3 parts per billion.

In an emailed statement, Whole Foods said the company’s “highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality and refreshing spring water.”

“Beyond the required annual testing by [a U.S. Food and Drug Administration] certified lab, we have an accredited third-party lab test every production run of water before it is sold,” the statement said. “These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.”

Starkey Spring Water is also carried by Amazon, though it was listed as “currently unavailable” on the e-commerce site on Wednesday morning. (Whole Foods is a unit of Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.) It’s still being sold by Whole Foods,$1.99 for a one-pint bottle. According to its product label, Starkey Spring Water originates from the Starkey Hot Springs in Idaho and is “deep down good. 11,000 years old.”

Whole Foods introduced Starkey Spring Water in 2015. Over the next two years, according to Consumer Reports, the retailer recalled more than 2,000 cases of water after tests showed arsenic levels that approached or exceeded the federal limit of 10 parts per billion. In 2019, Consumer Reports tests showed that Starkey Spring water contained levels approaching or exceeding the federal limit of 10 parts per billion.

James Dickerson, Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer, said drinking one bottle probably won’t harm you. But he cautioned that the risk grows with regular use.

“Regular consumption of even small amounts of the heavy metal over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and lower IQ scores in children, and poses other health issues as well,” Dickerson said about the investigation.

The Food and Drug Administration, which enforces federal bottled water regulations, issued a statement after the report that said arsenic is a “naturally occurring element” that cannot be removed entirely from the environment or food supply.

“Based on the CR test results for arsenic, the three Starkey Spring Water products are in compliance with FDA’s allowable level for arsenic under the quality standard regulations for bottled water,” the statement said. “The FDA is committed to limiting consumer exposure to arsenic to the greatest extent feasible and we will announce updates to our guidances when available.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soil, but it can also be a byproduct of mining and coal burning. The heavy metal can enter the water supply by dissolving out of certain rock formations when ground water levels drop, or through industrial and agricultural pollution.