The level of arsenic in Starkey Spring Water, bottled by Whole Foods, is about three times higher than in dozens of other brands tested by Consumer Reports (CR) and may put regular drinkers at risk of serious health issues.

The quantity of the toxic metal found in the bottled-water brand stood at between 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion (ppb), according to the non-governmental organization, which fights for transparency in the food market.

The metal levels fall – narrowly – within US federal regulations, which allow no more than 10 ppb of arsenic in bottled water, but CR experts insist this “level does not adequately protect public health.” It’s calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ratchet up its minimum standards once and for all.

Drinking the odd bottle of Starkey is fine, CR noted, but “regular consumption of even small amounts of the heavy metal over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and lower IQ scores in children, and poses other health issues as well,” said its chief scientific officer, James Dickerson.

CR said its research highlighted “inconsistencies” in how water is regulated in the US. States are allowed to set their own standards for faucet water – with some, such as New Jersey and New Hampshire, lowering the arsenic threshold to just 5 ppb – but prohibited by the FDA from doing the same with bottled water.

That puts Starkey Spring Water in the unusual position of being legal when put in a bottle but, in certain states, illegal if it came out of a household faucet.

A spokesman for Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon and currently sells Starkey in about 500 stores across America as well as online, told CR its product was “fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.” The company’s “highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality, and refreshing spring water,” he added.

However, it’s not the first time that high levels of arsenic have been detected in Starkey. CR said one of the samples it tested last year showed 10.1 ppb and resulted in two consumer lawsuits against the company. In 2016 and 2017, Whole Foods had to recall thousands of cases of the bottled water due to levels of the metal reaching up to 12 ppb.

However, internal tests conducted by Whole Foods showed arsenic levels of between 8 and 9 pph.

The water in Starkey originates from a spring in Idaho and, as the product’s slogan insists, is “made by Mother Nature” itself. Contamination by arsenic can occur naturally in groundwater, and can’t be entirely removed, but CR said that dozens of the bottled water brands it tested have undetectable amounts of arsenic, with Starkey being the only one to exceed 3 ppb.

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