Bill to require bottled water to be chemical-free

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Bottle water companies may soon have to ensure their products meet the same standards as public drinking water in New Hampshire for a range of compounds.

The move follows a scare last year in which high levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS, were found in bottled water of a Massachusetts company. The water was sold in stores in New Hampshire and other states. The company closed down in August over what it described as unwarranted attention and changing regulations.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, told a House committee Friday that a bill he is co-sponsoring would amend existing law to require bottlers to meet standards for more than 100 compounds regulated under the the state's safe drinking water act. Among them are arsenic and MTBE, a petroleum-based gasoline additive that has been used since the 1970s to reduce smog-causing emissions.

It would also require testing for several PFAS chemicals after the state set standards last year limiting one chemical in drinking water to a maximum of 12 parts per trillion and another to 15 parts per trillion.

“It should already be happening,” Cushing said of the proposal, which would apply to in-state bottlers and those from other states registered to sell their water in stores.

“This will just make it clear that you can't sell bottled water in the state that doesn't meet the maximum contaminant levels,” he said. "You go to a restaurant. You want bottled and or do you want the tap water? You will know they meet the same standards of healthiness or safeness."

The only opposition to the proposal came from the bottle water industry, which said a myriad of state regulations could confuse companies and potentially impact the supply of their products in New Hampshire.

"A patchwork of bottled water regulations would cause significant production and distribution complications for manufacturers," James Toner Jr. the director of government relations for the International Bottled Water Association, said in a statement presented to the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee. “It would also make it difficult for companies to provide needed bottled water products during emergencies or natural disasters in a state that has standards that are different than those required by the FDA.”

The bill is part of a growing push by states to ensure bottled water is free of emerging chemicals, particularly PFAS which has been linked to range of health problems. The FDA, which has broad authority over food including bottled water, has not established regulatory levels for PFAS.

Vermont is requiring bottled water approved for the sale and distribution of water to be tested for PFAS, according to Bryan Redmond, director for the drinking water and ground water protection division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The deadline is by the end of March. The instate suppliers have already been tested and no PFAS was found.

In Massachusetts, the state has asked the bottlers to voluntary monitor their supplies for PFAS. The state is proposing to set a drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion for six PFAS compounds. It held a public hearing on the proposal Thursday.

The bottled water industry, too, is trying to get ahead of the push to regulate PFAS. Starting last year, the International Bottled Water Association required its members to test their water for PFAS and ensure levels were below 5 parts per trillion or 10 parts per trillion for more than one compound.

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Associated Press writer Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this report.