Partway down the Whole Foods “Water, Juice, Soda, Paper Products” aisle, there are jugs of bottled water labeled 365 Spring Water.

Under the jug is the price: 89 cents. What the label and the price tag don’t mention is that Massachusetts has issued an advisory instructing pregnant women, breastfeeding moms and infants not to drink the water.

The problem isn't just at Whole Foods. Spring water from Spring Hill Farm Dairy in Haverhill, Massachusetts is sold across New England under a variety of brand names, including CVS’s Ice Canyon Spring Water, Stop & Shop’s Acadia Spring Water, Cumberland Farms Spring Water and Market Basket Spring Water — to name a few. None of these supermarket chains responded to requests for comment.

Spring water from this Haverhill company has been shown to have high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, man-made chemicals that are used in everything from carpets to nonstick pans. PFAS chemicals became widely used about 60 years ago.

“They’re used in a lot of outdoor gear, in dental floss, in pizza boxes,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of engineering and public health at Harvard. “You name it, we can pretty much find PFAS in it.”

Manufacturers like PFAS because they are good at repelling water, grease and stains. And, as result, they’ve become so common that basically everyone has some level of exposure.

“We can find these compounds in 98 or 99 percent of Americans,” said Sunderland. “We can detect these compounds in polar bears in the Arctic.”

PFAS has been associated with health concerns, adversely impacting people’s immune systems, thyroids and metabolism.

“Diabetes, risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease,” said Sunderland, ticking off a long list. “There’s a whole suite of things that they’ve been linked to.”

The federal government has not set a legally enforceable limit for PFAS in drinking water. The U.S. Evironmental Protection Agency does have a health advisory level of70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for two PFAS compounds, but Sunderland said it’s not legally binding, and many see it as too lenient.

That’s where states are stepping in, especially in the Northeast.

Massachusetts is in the process of coming up with a PFAS drinking water standard. And last week,New Hampshire’slegislature officially approved new standards for their state’s tap water.

It was actually New Hampshire that alerted Massachusetts to the problem with the spring water from Haverhill’s Spring Hill Farm Dairy.

“We went out and collected 20 different samples from supermarkets in the southern New Hampshire area,” said Jim Martin of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. He said just one company's samples came back with a high level of PFAS.

They did more testing with other bottles and brands that originated from the Spring Hill Farm Dairy. And they kept finding those high levels.

"It wasn't just that one sample," said Martin.

In tests for 20 different PFAS compounds, the level for Spring Hill's spring water consistently fell between 120 ng/L and 137 ng/L. Most of the samples from other sources came in with an ND, or Not Detected.

Brands that use spring water from Spring Hill Farm Dairy Inc.

  • 365 Spring Water (Whole Foods)
  • Acadia Spring Water (Stop and Shop)
  • Best Yet Spring Water (convenience stores)
  • Cumberland Farms Spring Water
  • IGA Spring Water (various markets)
  • Ice Canyon Spring Water (CVS)
  • Food Club Spring Water
  • Market Basket Spring Water
  • Natures Pride Spring Water (Garelick Farms)
  • Oakhurst Spring Water (various markets)
  • Roche Brothers Spring Water
  • Shaw Spring Water
  • Spring Hill Spring Water (various markets)
  • Golden Flow Spring Water
  • Hy-Top Spring Water
  • Native Brands Spring Water
  • Pride Pure

Source: Bottled Water Consumption Advisory, July 2, 2019. Massachusetts Department of Public Health

New Hampshire called Massachusetts and the company in Haverhill. That’s what prompted the states and the company to jointly recommend pregnant women, breastfeeding moms and infants avoid the spring water, because PFAS travels through breast milk.

Massachusetts didn’t recall the jugs of water or stop production. To the contrary, the state's advisory emphasized that the company is still in good standing.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) said nobody was available for an interview given “vacations and off-site meetings.” They sent WGBH News a statement saying that they did not find PFAS at the source of Spring Hill's water.

The statement said that DPH and the company are looking for where in the process the PFAS might have entered, possibly through things like the machinery. The company's distilled, purified and fluorinated water has not been shown to have any issues.

“[Spring Hill Farm Dairy] reacted immediately, ordering the filtration system that will prevent any PFAS from entering the water,” said Nancy Sterling, a spokesperson for the company. “They had it up and running in less than 30 days.”

That system was installed on Monday. It's located so that it filters the water further along in the bottling process.

“Testing of the water will take place in the next couple of weeks,” said Sterling.

But before the tests are done and the results are back, those jugs of water are still on grocery store shelves in six New England states. One store, Roche Bros

But before the tests are done and the results are back, those jugs of water are still on grocery store shelves in six New England states. After this story was published, a spokesman for Roche Bros. supermarkets contacted WGBH News to say the company pulled the water from their aisles and began offering customers refunds for bottles sold before they were aware of the health advisory.

This story was updated to include a statement from Roche Bros. supermarket.