PFAS in Sparking Water: Cause for Concern?

Bottles of sparkling water that may contain PFAS

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With the increasing popularity of sparkling water, you may have heard rumors that it contains PFAS — a class of man-made chemical compounds often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally.

And it’s true, sparkling water often contains PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in slightly higher quantities than regular water. In 2020, Consumer Reports evaluated 47 different bottled waters (12 carbonated, 35 flat) and astoundingly only found two brands with no detectable PFAS.

However, avoiding sparkling water is not a viable solution for avoiding PFAS, especially when considering alternatives. Much of tap water in the United States contains forever chemicals as well — often in greater amounts than what you’d find in bottled sparkling water.

Person testing water for PFAS

What’s more, our tap often water contains greater concentrations of PFAS and other contaminants than recommended for consumption by the EPA. Much like microplastics, PFAS are ubiquitous globally. They’re found in water, air, soil and in the blood of animals — including humans.

For these reasons, it’s important for us to understand PFAS, including potential health consequences, as well as steps we can take to protect our well-being.

Since PFAS can be more abundant in sparkling water than regular water, you may be interested to know which brands contain more or less of these chemicals. Read on for PFAS contents by sparkling water brand.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of over 4,700 man-made chemicals. They are often used to coat items and make them resistant to heat, oil, stains, and water. The most common example is non-stick cookware, but there are several other household and industrial applications:

  • Adhesives
  • Food packaging
  • Rain jackets
  • Tents
  • Umbrellas
  • Cleaning products
  • Shampoo
  • Dental floss
  • Nail polish
  • Makeup
  • Stain-resistant coatings on carpet and upholstery
  • Firefighting foams

These chemicals are of great concern to environmental scientists because they do not break down — hence the moniker “forever chemicals.” After contaminating soil and water, they tend to build up in the bodies of wildlife and cycle through the food chain.

In turn, when people eat food or drink water (sparkling or flat), they typically also consume a tiny amount of PFAS. You can find PFAS in just about any food, since it all requires water and/or soil to produce: vegetables, meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, and more.

Dangers of PFAS

You may have heard that the PFAS chemical coating on your non-stick frying pan can get into your food and, over the years, lead to developing diseases such as cancer. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that story is plausible.

A 2018 review by the CDC describes a variety of health impacts associated with PFAS exposure, including:

  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Decreased fertility
  • Asthma
  • Thyroid disease

Regardless of where the PFAS you consume come from, these effects are more likely when you are exposed to greater quantities and over greater periods of time. That includes water — carbonated or not.

Acceptable PFAS limits in drinking water as described by various public health and environmental authorities differ greatly. Additionally, these limitations are more guidance than enforceable rules. Within the United States, these standards are sometimes voluntarily met, but often shirked by state and local governments.

PFAS Guidance by Organization

  • World Health Organization (WHO) – 100 parts per trillion (ppt)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – 70 ppt
  • Environmental Working Group (EWG) – 1 ppt
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – No enforced limits

Why Does Sparkling Water Contain More PFAS?

Sparkling water tends to contain greater concentrations of PFAS than flat bottled water. According to researchers, the reasoning for this is unclear, and likely varies from one brand to another.

It may be related to the carbonation process, or it could also be related to the source water containing more PFAS. Manufacturers do perform various treatments to help ensure their sparkling water products are safe for consumption.

While enforced limits of PFAS in water are meager in the United States, we can take some solace in one fact: Brand reputations and consequently sales depend upon consumers’ trust in their products. Thanks to independent studies, discerning consumers are able to evaluate one brand against another and determine which meets their personal standards.

San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water

Sparkling Water Brands’ PFAS Levels

If you’re looking to reduce your PFAS consumption, there are several choices for sparkling water that contain quite low levels. It is important to remember that PFAS is largely unavoidable today, and you’ll likely always consume it from one source or another. However, attempting to reduce your intake is a smart choice.

Sparkling Water with Lower PFAS (Less than 1ppt)

  • Sparkling Ice – Not detected
  • Spindrift – 0.19 ppt
  • San Pellegrino – 0.31 ppt
  • Dasani – 0.37 ppt
  • Schweppes – 058 ppt

Sparkling Water with Higher PFAS (More than 1ppt)

  • Perrier – 1.1 ppt
  • LaCroix – 1.16 ppt
  • Canada Dry – 1.24 ppt
  • Poland Spring – 1.66 ppt
  • Bubly – 2.24 ppt
  • Polar Seltzer – 6.41 ppt
  • Topo Chico – 9.76 ppt

Data from Consumer Reports (2020)

Food packaging which may contain PFAS

Limiting Risks Associated with PFAS

While PFAS are virtually everywhere, there are some things you can do in your daily life to help keep them out of your body. From the products you buy to the beverages you consume, it’s simply a matter of maintaining a conscious consumer mindset.

  • Food Packaging – Transfer food out of packaging as soon as you are able to, and avoid reheating food in takeout containers
  • Clothing – Avoid products with stain resistance and seek out brands that make pledges regarding PFAS limitations
  • Cookware – Opt for cookware without nonstick coatings, like cast iron or steel. Or, simply ensure you are using nonstick cookware properly (not damaging the nonstick layer)
  • Cosmetics – Avoid water resistant makeup products
  • Water – Test your home’s drinking water and purchase filters to remove chemicals (there are even some filtration systems that can carbonate your tap water)
  • Air – Change heating and cooling filters regularly and consider installing a home air filtration system

Should We Be Concerned with PFAS in Sparkling Water?

Unfortunately, PFAS are largely unavoidable, but there are some things we can do to limit our intake. With sparkling water generally having slightly greater concentrations of PFAS than flat bottled water, you may decide the risk is not worth the satisfying carbonation.

However, as shown above, there are plenty of sparkling water brands that contain very low levels of PFAS.

As we learn more about “forever chemicals,” pressures continue to mount for more stringent regulation. Perhaps one day, we can reach for any bottle of sparkling water on the supermarket shelf with confidence that it contains little or no PFAS.