- Keurig Dr Pepper announced it was withdrawing Peñafiel spring water products from the U.S. market because sampling by an independent lab found they contained arsenic levels higher than the 10 parts per billion allowed by the FDA. The company did not say how high the levels were.
- All unflavored Peñafiel mineral spring water products in PET bottles, which are imported from Mexico, are being pulled back. Keurig Dr Pepper said it had notified retailers, including Walmart, Target and others. Consumers can return products to retailers for a full refund.
- The company noted arsenic is found in nature, including in aquifers where mineral water is sourced, and that levels can vary over time. It also said enhanced filtration systems had been installed at its facilities where Peñafiel is produced, and "the product now being produced is well within regulatory guidelines."
Problematic arsenic levels in Peñafiel spring water became public several months ago. According to a recent Consumer Reports investigation, this brand and five others tested at 3 ppb or higher in a recent sampling of 130 bottled water brands. The report found that it was able to purchase Peñafiel products on Amazon and at retail stores in two states despite an existing FDA import alert issued in 2015 because the product contained arsenic levels above 10 ppb.
After the report came out, Keurig Dr Pepper told the group it had conducted new tests and found average arsenic levels of 17 ppb in Peñafiel samples. The company then suspended production at its bottling plant in Mexico for two weeks and said it was improving filtration. However, it did not issue either a voluntary withdrawal or a recall at that time.
Although arsenic occurs naturally, consumption over time has been linked to cardiovascular problems, lower IQ scores in children and certain cancers, according to the World Health Organization. On June 3, a California man filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the company "acted irresponsibly and unlawfully" by selling bottled water containing unsafe levels of arsenic. More lawsuits could be coming since it took the company this long to withdraw the product from market. The complaint referenced the Consumer Reports investigation and stated the company had to have known there were high levels of arsenic in Peñafiel products before the report came out.
It's likely the ongoing controversy — and possibly higher arsenic levels in more recent testing — prompted Keurig Dr Pepper to issue the withdrawal. While Keurig Dr Pepper's core businesses include soft drinks, specialty coffee, tea, water and juice drinks, it's taking the time and money to withdraw the "very limited" Mexican products and invest in enhanced filtration systems, so Peñafiel's sales must be worth the effort.
This episode raises troubling questions about Peñafiel and could cause consumers to wonder whether it's safe to drink. Consumer Reports asserted in April that records it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show FDA has known about high arsenic levels in the brand's products "since at least 2013." The group is continuing to press the company and the FDA for more action about the problem and is advocating for reducing the federal arsenic level from 10 ppb to 3 ppb.
Meanwhile, Keurig Dr Pepper is working on its consumer-facing image by recently issuing a new corporate responsibility strategy and commitments document. Among pledges involving the environment, supply and communities, the company said it would "partner with leading organizations to accelerate portfolio innovation and transparency for health and wellbeing."
Other manufacturers have faced similar challenges, including Walgreens with acrylamide in cookies and General Mills, Kellogg and Post with acrylamide in cereal. Glyphosate has been found in most wine and beer, Tropicana and Safeway Signature Farms orange juice, Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, General Mills' Nature Valley granola bars and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. These incidents can lead to lawsuits, reformulations, new labeling and tightening up on production processes. But this latest case could also mean bad news for all the bottled water companies named in Consumer Reports' investigation, which may want to increase testing around their products.
Companies typically defend products by noting they meet state and federal standards for chemical residues, which is why Consumer Reports and other groups want to see permissible levels revised downward. Still, continuing negative news and withdrawals tend to leave a bad taste for consumers wanting healthier, untainted products.