Local Grocery Stores Are Selling Toxin-Tainted Bottled Water

While the chemical levels are technically within federal guidelines, the Department of Public Health is advising pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants to steer clear of the water.

Photo by Meg MacDonald

This story has been updated to include comment from Spring Hill Water.

If you thought you were safely escaping tainted water by steering clear of the Charles, here’s some bad news: Local grocery stores have been selling gallons of bottled water that contains significantly elevated levels of toxic, manmade chemicals.

As first reported by the Boston Globe, New Hampshire officials discovered last month in random testing that the water from Haverhill company Spring Hill Farm Dairy—which is sold at stores across New England under various different names—contained abnormal amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals. These chemicals, known as PFAs, are a common ingredient in products like carpeting, fabric, cookware, and food packaging, but they have also been linked to serious health concerns, including cancer, liver damage, and decreased fertility.

After the New Hampshire officials clued their Massachusetts counterparts in to the tainted water, the Department of Public Health released a consumption advisory “out of an abundance of caution,” advising pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants to not drink or cook with the water in question. However, stores carrying the water were not required to post warnings to customers or to recall the bottles—and in several stores, the bottles remain on the shelves.

All bottles on shelves are in full compliance with current state and federal regulations,” Spring Hill Water said in a statement. “The advisory applies only to pregnant and lactating women and infants. If state or federal regulators believed there was a danger to the general public then they would not have issued an advisory which applies only to a very small segment of the population. Spring Hill’s new $100,000 filtration system was quickly installed on July 22nd and all PFAS should be eliminated from bottles after that date.”

There are currently no state or national legal limits for PFA levels in water, though both recommend public alerts if certain types of PFA levels reach 70 parts per trillion. However, environmental advocates are calling for increased regulations and transparency when it comes to PFAs.

“People think that if a product is on the shelves, it’s safe. That is simply not true,” Kyla Bennett, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in New England and a former EPA scientist, told the Globe. “In this country, toxic chemicals are treated like people who have committed crimes: innocent until proven guilty.”

Is your bottle contaminated? Market Basket and CVS have stopped carrying the water, but other stores throughout New England continue to sell it. To find out, check the label for three things: if your water brand is from Spring Hill Farm Dairy, if it came from the farm’s spring, and if it was bottled before July 22. The Globe has the full list of affected brands here.