Bottled water contains alarming amount of nanoplastics: What to know

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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A recent study found that bottled water contains thousands of nanoplastic particles. GNL Media/Getty Images
  • According to a new study, bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic nanoparticles.
  • With the Health effects of ingested plastics remaining unclear but worrying, the study suggests a far larger problem than previously understood.
  • Similarly, a second new report finds far greater microplastic levels than expected in nearly every food tested.

A new study introduces a new method of detecting tiny nanoparticles — less than a thousandth the width of a human hair — of plastic in bottled water. They are so small that they are measured in billionths of a meter.

Closely following new research from Consumer Reports’ lab that found microplastics — from five millimeters to one micrometer in size — in 84 out of 85 foods tested, plastics seem to have infiltrated the human food chain to an even greater degree than previously understood.

In another recent study from researchers at Columbia University using the new nanoplastic detection method, researchers revealed 10 to 100 times more nanoplastics in bottled water than had previously been documented.

The health effects of this plastic are complex and unclear.

The new study found between 110,000 and 370,000 nanoparticles, most of which were nanoplastics, when they tested three popular bottled water brands.

Using hyperspectral stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy, the researchers could observe particles as small as 100 nanometers in the water they examined.

The study is published in PNAS.

It is not entirely certain what risks may result from the consumption of such particles. However, research suggests cause for concern.

Dr. Benedé explained, “On the one hand, these plastic particles can cause physical injury by damaging, for example, the intestine when consuming contaminated food, or the lungs when we inhale them.” She attributed this potential harm to “the simple fact that plastics rub against tissue.”

Moreover, she said, “Micro and nanoplastics can also be a chemical hazard, as they contain additives which are added during their production to give them special properties such as strength, flexibility, stiffness, adaptability to external factors, etc.”

Some of the most studied additives, said Dr. Benedé, “are phthalates and bisphenol A [BPA]. Both are considered endocrine disruptors and can alter endocrine system functions leading to adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.”

Tiny plastic particles may also harbor unhealthful stowaways, said Dr. Benedé. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms.”

“Once inside the cells, [the nanoparticles] could release the compounds, leading to additional health issues.”

– Dr. Stapleton

“Plastic particles are not homogeneous,” said. Dr. Benedé. “Depending on the plastic material they come from, their size and also their shape, they will have different effects on our organism, and the hazardous effects can be very diverse.”

“Plastic particles could induce physical stress and damage, apoptosis, necrosis, inflammation, oxidative stress and immune responses, which could contribute to the development of diseases such as cancer, metabolic disorders, and neurodevelopmental conditions, among others.”

– Dr. Benedé

It is also the case that plastics do not readily biodegrade, so once they are ingested, they may remain for an undetermined length of time, potentially posing a long-term health hazard.

“Highly processed foods and beverages would be more likely to contain plastic particles,” she noted.

“The best advice is awareness and avoidance,” said Dr. Stapleton.

Dr. Stapleton recommended switching from disposable plastic bottles to metal or glass. This provides two benefits. In addition to reducing the risk of exposure to plastics, reusable drinking containers lower the number of bottles used, reducing one’s waste stream.

Dr. Benedé also suggested one “go loose-leaf instead of using tea bags,” rely more on tap water with a filter capable of removing particles, and use a glass container when microwaving.

Dr. Stapleton noted, that despite her study’s findings, “Staying hydrated is crucial for health. Therefore, we do not advise against drinking bottled water when necessary, as the risk of dehydration may outweigh the potential impacts of nanoplastics exposure.”

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