Looking at What Goes into Sparkling Water

There is a pretty good chance you’re reading this while swigging some sparkling water from a colorful can and feeling pretty good about yourself.  You’ve kicked your soda habit in favor or something refreshing and bubbly without all the extra sugar.  Hurray!  Great job.  You’re saving yourself hundreds of extra calories a day, which keeps you hydrated and your pants from getting too tight.

But are all sparkling water brands created equal?  I recently found out about PFAs, and that they are found in our drinking water. 

PFAs stand for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and are a class of chemicals that have been around since the 1940s.  They are resistant to water, heat and oil, and are often found in food packaging, household cleaning products, and nonstick cookware, such as Teflon.  They are also used in large-scale firefighting operations.  These chemicals have been found in the soil and water in almost all 50 states, and tend to be higher in locations where they are used in manufacturing or for firefighting training, such as military bases and airports.  These chemicals have been nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down quickly, staying around for decades or more.

PFAs have also been found in fish, animals and even humans.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to PFAs can have adverse effects on our health.  While studies are still limited, tumors, reproductive, immunological and developmental effects in lab animals have been observed.  There are two specific PFAs that have been studied, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid).

While the EPA has been studying PFAs since the 1990s, there are no official recommendations for limits on the acceptable amount in drinking water.  So far, the EPA has a ‘voluntary guideline’ of no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in tap water, but others in the industry would support a lower threshold.  According to a Consumer Reports article, a member of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommended a guideline of only 1 ppt.

According to the EPA, there are efforts at the national level to regulate and remediate PFAs and contaminated areas, and in 2016 New York became the first state to regulate PFOA and PFOS as ‘hazardous substances.’  Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a maximum level of 10 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, one of the lowest acceptable levels in the country. Additionally, the use of PFOA and PFOS is being phased out in the United States, but products containing them can be imported and other PFAs remain in use.

So what does this mean for us, sipping our carbonated water at the rate of two or three a day?

Consumer Reports studied a variety of carbonated water brands and found the level of PFAs to vary greatly.  The original article appeared in the November 2020 issue.

Lowest total PFAs, less than 1 ppt:

-Sparkling Ice (Black Raspberry): Not Detected

-Spindrift (Raspberry Lime): 0.19

-SanPellegrino (Natural): 0.31

-Dasani (Black Cherry): 0.37

-Schweppes (Lemon Lime): 0.58

Highest total PFAs, more than 1 ppt:

-Perrier (Natural): 1.1

-La Croix (Natural): 1.16

-Canada Dry (Lemon Lime): 1.24

-Poland Spring (Zesty Lime): 1.66

-Bubly (Blackberry): 2.24

-Polar (Natural): 6.41

-Topo Chico (Natural): 9.76

Perhaps this list will inform which brand you purchase next time you’re at the store?  Thankfully, I haven’t seen the Topo Chico brand around these parts, but I’m currently drinking mandarin-flavored Polar seltzer water—yikes. 

Want to know more about what’s in your can of sparkling water?  Next month I’ll discuss those ‘natural flavors’ on the ingredient list.

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