For News Editors and Health Reporters
PFAS and Bottled Water
Recent media attention about PFAS in tap water has resulted in a few articles being published with incorrect information about the quality and safety of bottled water. Provided below are the facts about PFAS and bottled water. Please keep these facts handy, now and for the future, should you need them. And please contact IBWA if you have any questions concerning this issue.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many others. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States, since the 1940s (but NOT bottled water companies). PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both are very persistent in the environment and in the human body; in fact, they don’t break down and can accumulate over time. Evidence shows that exposure to PFAS may lead to adverse human health effects.
Drinking water regulations for PFAS
Currently, neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates tap water, or the Food and Drug Administration (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.
Bottled water industry testing and standards
While not required by FDA, the International Bottled Water Association (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.
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 that is sourced from public water systems
“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.
Consumer access to information about PFAS in drinking water
Consumers who are concerned about PFAS in their drinking water should call their water provider (e.g., public water system or bottled water company). 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 about their public water system.
In addition, consumers can check their local government website for PFAS information. For example, the state of Massachusetts has a PFAS information page (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas) and towards the bottom of that page, under “additional information,” there is link to a list of bottled water brands that comply with MA PFAS drinking water standards. (https://www.mass.gov/doc/list-of-bottlers-march-31-2023)
Language from the MDPH website says:
“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) Food Protection Program publishes a list of companies licensed to sell or distribute bottled water or carbonated non-alcoholic beverages in Massachusetts. The list includes bottling company weblinks to enable searches for products sold in Massachusetts. Licenses are renewed annually, and the MDPH list will be updated quarterly.
The MDPH list includes only bottlers licensed by MDPH after they provided test results which show that their bottled water or beverages comply with drinking water standards for PFAS and other contaminants established by:
- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection,
- The US Environmental Protection Agency, and
- The US Food and Drug Administration.”
Bottled water regulation and safety
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.
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.