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Mineral water for infants must not contain uranium!

22/2005, 30.06.2005

For adults no health risk is discernible at low levels

Mineral water, carrying the claim "Suitable for the preparation of infant formula", should not contain any uranium. This is the conclusion drawn by BfR after undertaking a health assessment of uranium levels in mineral waters. "Uranium, like other heavy metals, is poisonous from certain concentrations upwards. Since infants are particularly sensitive, stricter yardsticks must be applied to them than to adults", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. At present, there is no limit value for uranium in mineral water. The World Health Organisation assumes for adults that uranium levels in drinking water of up to 15 µg per litre are tolerable from the health angle. Until maximum levels are laid down for mineral water, BfR is of the opinion that this drinking water value can be used as a substitute. The test agencies of the federal states examined the uranium levels in more than 1,500 samples of mineral water from Germany.

On earth uranium is a widespread, toxic and radioactive heavy metal. Uranium compounds may, therefore, be natural components of rocks, minerals, water, air and soil. Traces of uranium can thus be detected in many foods and, of course, in water.

Like all heavy metals, uranium can impair the renal function when the body ingests larger amounts. Human beings and, more particularly, infants – one of the most sensitive groups in the population – should therefore take in as little uranium as possible.

Natural mineral waters are one source of uranium intake. During its passage through various rock and soil layers, water can take up uranium compounds present there.

According to the World Health Organisation, a burden of up 15 µg/litre drinking water is acceptable for adults from the health angle. BfR also assumes that even the consumption of mineral water with this amount of uranium is not expected to lead to any health risk for consumers. In their examination of mineral waters from German springs, the agencies of the federal states observed that around 97% of the 1,530 samples meet these requirements.

However, mineral water is increasingly being used to prepare infant formula. Stricter yardsticks must be applied here. Since infants are particularly sensitive to heavy metals including uranium, mineral water bearing the special claim “suitable for the preparation of infant formula” should not contain any uranium on precautionary grounds. This was the still the case for 44% of all mineral waters examined.

Further information on this subject can be accessed on our website (www.bfr.bund.de) in German under Lebensmittel/Lebensmittelsicherheit/Rückstände und Kontaminanten.

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