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Whole Foods and Amazon selling water with "concerning" arsenic levels, report says

A brand of bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods and sold by Amazon contains "concerning" levels of arsenic that are at least three times higher than other brands tested by Consumer Reports. The publication said the arsenic levels exceed the legal limits for tap water in some states, although they fall below federal limits for bottled water. 

Tests by Consumer Reports found that Starkey Spring Water, the brand made by Whole Foods, has arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion (ppb). That's just below the federal requirement that manufacturers limit the amount of arsenic to 10 ppb, the report noted.

The study highlights the issues surrounding bottled water, which overtook soda as the No. 1 drink sold in the U.S. in 2016. Consumers often turn to bottled water because they believe it to be healthier than other bottled drinks, especially those that contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, or even safer than tap water. 

It's not the first time that Starkey Spring Water has been found to have high levels of arsenic. The Food and Drug Administration told Whole Foods that tests had found levels as high as 12 ppb, which resulted in recalls of the water in 2016 and 2017, according to Consumer Reports.

Differing water standards

The tests also highlight the discrepancies in water standards, which vary according to state and federal regulations. 

For instance, New Hampshire and New Jersey have lowered their state tap water limits for arsenic to 5 ppb, compared with 10 ppb for the federal limit. That means Starkey Spring Water is legal to sell in a bottle across the U.S., but it would be illegal if it came out of the tap in those states, Consumer Reports noted.

"Being fully compliant with FDA's allowable levels for arsenic is a claim that rings hollow when you consider it's an outdated standard that is inferior to tap water in certain states," Brian Ronholm, Consumer Report's director of food policy and former head of the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, told the publication.

Whole Foods said Starkey Spring Water meets FDA standards for heavy metals. 

"Beyond the required annual testing by an FDA certified lab, we have an accredited third-party lab test every production run of water before it is sold," a Whole Foods Market spokesperson said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

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