International Bottled Water Association
October 12, 2023
Consumers concerned about PFAS in tap water can look to bottled water
Alexandria, VA – Ongoing media attention surrounding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in tap water may have caused some consumers to question if bottled water is a safe and reliable drinking water alternative. Consumers should know that all bottled water products made by members of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) must meet stringent PFAS standards adopted by the association in 2019.
News articles published throughout the U.S. are mentioning a United States Geological Survey (USGS) study that revealed at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to be contaminated with one or more types of PFAS, which are forever chemicals and can lead to adverse health risks in people.
While not mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), IBWA requires its members to test for 18 PFAS substances in all the products they sell. In addition, IBWA member companies must meet the following standards of quality (SOQs) for PFAS in their bottled water products:
- 5 parts per trillion (ppt) for detection of a single PFAS compound
- 10 ppt for detection of two or more PFAS compounds
IBWA’s PFAS actions underscore the commitment of IBWA members to always provide consumers with the safest and highest quality bottled water products. Testing for PFAS provides consumers, local and state governments, and disaster and emergency relief personnel further assurance that bottled water is a safe and convenient product for everyday use and in times of need when tap water is compromised.
IBWA bottler members make up approximately 73% of the U.S. bottled water market, by volume, and include many popular private and store-labelled brands.
Consumers who are concerned about drinking water that contains PFAS should contact their bottled water company and request to see testing results for PFAS. If consumers are not able to obtain the PFAS information they want from a bottled water bottler, they have the option to switch to another brand. The same can’t be said of public water systems, as consumers don’t have the option to choose another source for their tap water.
Currently, neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates tap water, or FDA, which regulates bottled water, has enforceable regulations for PFAS in drinking water.
The EPA has a “proposed” regulation for six PFAS substances in tap water. By law, once the EPA PFAS regulation becomes final, FDA will have 180 days to either issue a corresponding regulation for bottled water or publish a rationale for why the EPA’s regulation is not applicable to bottled water. If FDA does neither within the prescribed time frame, then the EPA PFAS regulation will automatically become applicable to bottled water by operation of law. This ensures parity in the regulation of bottled water and tap water.
In November 2019, IBWA asked FDA to establish a SOQ for PFAS in bottled water. FDA responded to IBWA’s request stating that “establishing an SOQ for PFAS in bottled water at this time would not significantly enhance FDA’s mission of public health protection.” This was based upon FDA’s testing and analysis of 30 different bottled water products, with none of them showing any detectable levels of PFAS.
More recently in June of this year, FDA released testing results for PFAS in fresh and processed foods and bottled water. The bottled water results were all negative.
Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by FDA and is among the safest food products on the market. Bottled water must comply with the general FDA good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for foods (21 CFR Part 117), specific bottled water GMPs (21 CFR Part 129), bottled water standards of identity (21 CFR 165.110 (a)) and bottled water standards of quality (21 CFR 165.110 (b)). By law, the SOQs for bottled water must be as protective of the public health as EPA’s regulations for tap water.
All bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.
Consumers should also understand that “purified” bottled water that is made by using water from a public water system is not “just tap water in a bottle.” Once the tap water enters the bottled water plant, several processes are employed to ensure that it meets FDA’s “purified water” standard, which is based on the U.S. Pharmacopeia, 23rd Revision. These treatments can include reverse osmosis, distillation, or de-ionization. The finished water product, which is far different from the water from a public water system, is then placed in a bottle under sanitary conditions and sold to the consumer.
For more information about bottled water, visit IBWA’s website: www.bottledwater.org.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.
In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.