Dangerous contaminants have been discovered in bottled water sold in stores across New England. Although the risk has been identified, vendors are under no obligation to remove the tainted products from their shelves.
Listed at the end of this article are the specific brand names of tainted bottled water.
On July 2, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a “Bottled Water Consumption Advisory,” which stated that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants should not drink certain 1-2.5-gallon jugs of spring water sourced from Spring Hill Farm Dairy Inc. in the city of Haverhill.
Last week, one month after the advisory, Spring Hill shut its doors. Yet the dangers posed by this type of groundwater pollution are far from over.
The impurities were discovered as part of a random sampling of bottled water carried out by New Hampshire regulators. They found that water from the Haverhill company contained elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. Exposure to this group of chemicals can lead to a range of adverse human health effects.
The federal government has safety guidelines for PFAS levels in drinking water, but currently, it has no way to enforce them. Some states lack protective rules of their own. In the Massachusetts case, for example, companies are free to keep selling tainted bottled water regardless of the warning coming from the Department of Public Health.
What Are PFAS and Why Are They Dangerous?
There are more than 5,000 members of the class of chemicals collectively referred to as PFAS. They are man-made chemicals that have been manufactured in the United States since the 1940s. Used in a range of commercial and consumer goods, PFAS have properties that make products more resistant to fire and repel oil, grease, and water.
Think of the inside of a bag of microwavable popcorn or the non-stick surface on a cooking pan.
Some of the brand names associated with PFAS include:
One of the major uses of PFAS has been in the foam used to fight fuel fires, known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). This firefighting foam is linked to cancer and is still used extensively by the military, polluting groundwater around bases all over the country.
Once toxic PFAS are in the environment, they don’t go away.
PFAS are sometimes described as “forever chemicals,” because they are not readily broken down by natural processes. Because of this, PFAS can permanently pollute soil and groundwater, and they may build up in certain food sources, like fish. Once they are used, PFAS persist and travel, ending up inside human tissue, where they remain for years.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to PFAS can adversely affect the liver, as well as the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and reproductive systems. Additionally, PFAS are known to cause serious developmental issues and are associated with increases in kidney and testicular cancers.
PFAS pollution is a nationwide risk. An Environmental Working Group (EWG) study published earlier this year estimated that as many as 110 million Americans could be drinking PFAS-contaminated water.
Like asbestos, the chemical properties that made the PFAS valuable — its durability, resistance to wear and heat — make it a nightmare from a public health standpoint. Everywhere that scientists have looked, from the Marianas Trench to the Arctic Circle, they have found the artificial PFAS.
Why Aren’t PFAS Protections in Place?
Connecticut Senator Dick Blumenthal said in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
“Given the widespread persistence of PFAS in our environment and drinking water, many people have turned to bottled water to avoid adding toxins to their bodies.
In light of this, it is especially concerning that bottled water may contain PFAS in unsafe concentrations. My constituents, as well as many other Americans, continue to be exposed to these toxic substances.”
Blumenthal called on the FDA to flex its regulatory authority over food and bottled water to keep people safe. Specifically, he wants the FDA to require products to have no more than 70 ppt (parts per trillion) of PFAS, which is the current EPA guideline. For 2 specific PFAS, Blumenthal is asking that the threshold be limited to 15 ppt.
Traditionally, legislators have lobbied the EPA to take action on PFAS, so it will be interesting to see if Blumenthal’s approach yields any new protections for American consumers.
PFAS and the ‘Cruel Irony’ of Firefoam
Included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are new regulations requiring the EPA to take a tougher stance on PFAS. The NDAA, which has been passed in both the House and Senate, would establish a new drinking water standard.
“The provisions we secured in this legislation will improve both the federal government’s understanding of and response to PFAS contamination,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) about the new legislation.
He identified the Department of Defense’s use of firefighting foam as a chief source of the pollution, noting that:
"The use of these chemicals in firefighting foam has undoubtedly saved lives, but the cruel irony is that those same life-saving chemicals can endanger lives when they wind up in a glass of drinking water.”
Even if no more PFAS were created ever again, the long-term problems associated with these toxic “forever chemicals” are only now coming into view. Until the federal government addresses this issue in a serious way, PFAS contamination will continue to harm people.
List of Bottled Water Affected by the Spring Hill Advisory
The following are the brand names of bottled water affected by the Spring Hill advisory (note that water source on the label must read “Spring Hill Spring” in order to be affected):
Sold in Massachusetts:
- 365 Spring Water (Whole Foods)
- Acadia Spring Water (Stop and Shop)
- Best Yet Spring Water (convenience stores)
- Cumberland Farms Spring Water
- IGA Spring Water (various markets)
- Ice Canyon Spring Water (CVS)
- Food Club Spring Water
- Market Basket Spring Water
- Natures Pride Spring Water (Garelick Farms)
- Oakhurst Spring Water (various markets)
- Roche Brothers Spring Water
- Shaw Spring Water
- Spring Hill Spring Water (various markets)
Sold Outside of Massachusetts:
- Golden Flow Spring Water
- Hy-Top Spring Water
- Native Brands Spring Water
- Pride Pure
All brands are registered trademarks of their respective companies.