• What Are the Limits for Pollutants in Bottled Water?

Water/Wastewater

What Are the Limits for Pollutants in Bottled Water?

Sep 27 2022

With up to 80% of our bodies made from water, it’s a precious resource upon which we all depend for survival. Humans cannot live without drinking water for more than a couple of days, so ensuring everyone has access to clean water that is safe to drink is a basic right. Water which comes out of the tap in the UK is subjected to rigorous testing protocols on a regular basis to keep it free from pollution.

Most people would expect that bottled water would be held to even higher standards; after all, buying bottles of water from a supermarket can be up to 2,000 times more expensive than drinking it at source. But what actually are the limits on pollutants in bottled water in Great Britain? Is it as safe to drink as we assume? We take a deeper dive into the subject below.

By the numbers

The British government requires that all producers of bottled water test their water on a regular basis and ensure it complies with legal limits for chemical, microbiological, pesticides and radioactive substances. Here are those categories and the limits on the pollutants found within them broken down in greater detail:

Chemical limits

Acrylamide

0.10 micrograms per litre

Antimony

5 micrograms per litre

Arsenic

10 micrograms per litre

Benzene

1 micrograms per litre

Benzo(a)pyrene

0.01 micrograms per litre

Boron

1 milligrams per litre

Bromate

10 micrograms per litre

Cadmium

5 micrograms per litre

Chromium

50 micrograms per litre

Copper

2 milligrams per litre

Cyanide

50 micrograms per litre

1,2 dichloroethane

3 micrograms per litre

Epichlorohydrin

0.10 micrograms per litre

Fluoride

1.5 milligrams per litre

Lead

10 micrograms per litre

Mercury

1 micrograms per litre

Nickel

20 micrograms per litre

Nitrate

50 milligrams per litre

Nitrite

0.5 milligrams per litre

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

0.1 micrograms per litre

Selenium

10 micrograms per litre

Tetrachloroethane and trichloroethane

10 micrograms per litre

Trichloromethanes

100 micrograms per litre

Vinyl chloride

0.50 micrograms per litre

Microbiological bacteria limits

Escherichia coli

0 per 250 ml

Enterococci

0 per 250 ml

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

0 per 250 ml

Faecal streptococci

0 per 250 ml

Sporulated sulphite-reducing anaerobes

0 per 250 ml

Total viable colony count (TVC) after 72 hours at 22°C

100 per ml

TVC after 24 hours at 37°C

20 per ml

Pesticide limits

Aldrin

0.030 micrograms per litre

Dieldrin

0.030 micrograms per litre

Heptachlor

0.030 micrograms per litre

Heptachlor epoxide

0.030 micrograms per litre

Other individual pesticides

0.10 micrograms per litre

Total pesticides

0.50 micrograms per litre

Radioactive limits

Radon

100 becquerels per litre

Tritium

100 becquerels per litre

Indicative dose

0.10 millisievert per litre

Forever chemicals

Although the above contaminants are fairly tightly controlled in both tap and bottled water, there has been mounting concern over levels of so-called “forever chemicals”. Formally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), this group of thousands of chemicals do not degrade in the atmosphere or in the human body, thus potentially accumulating to dangerous concentrations over time.

At present, UK law requires that water companies must only take steps to reduce the amount of PFAS in their product when it exceeds 100 nanograms per litre. Healthcare professionals must be consulted if the levels exceed 10 nanograms per litre, but even this is far higher than the European threshold of 2.2 nanograms per litre, fuelling fears that the UK is falling behind its continental peers with regard to drinking water safety.


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