Microplastics found in over 90 percent of big-brand bottled water - study
More than 90 percent of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands contain tiny pieces of plastic, according to a new study. Scientists from the State University of New York wrote that they “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water,” compared with their previous study of tap water.
The U.S. government National Ocean Service defines microplastics as pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long and the effects of ingesting them are unknown.
“When we think about the composition of the plastic … what actually the particles might do in the body – there’s just not the research there to tell us,” said Bruce Gordon, coordinator of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global work on water and sanitation. “Without exception, the experts and regulatory authorities we have interviewed have highlighted the need for additional studies [on the effects of microplastics on humans],” Orb Media, the not-for-profit journalism organization that commissioned the research, told WikiTribune.
Gordon also stressed that in countries where tap water is contaminated with sewage this is a far greater known risk than microplastics. The WHO announced it is launching a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water. (Contribute to WikiTribune‘s plastics in the ocean project here.)
The new study used a dye called Nile Red which binds to pieces of plastic, and can be seen under particular light wavelengths. After screening 259 bottles of water from 11 brands, Professor Sherri Mason, who supervised the study, found an average of 10 plastic particles per liter of water, each larger than the width of a human hair, and 93 percent showed some sign of microplastic contamination. Only 17 of the bottles had no plastic particles at all, while one bottle contained more than 10,000 particles per liter.
Nestlé, which produces several bottled water brands, responded by saying that the Nile Red dye method could “generate false positives,” because it did include a step in which biological substances are removed from the sample, in a statement to CBC News. “The research results do not correspond to the internal analyses that we conduct on a regular basis,” it continued.
However, Mason told Orb Media that a so-called “digestion step,” applied to debris-filled samples from the ocean or beaches, wasn’t needed for bottled water. “Certainly they are not suggesting that pure, filtered, pristine water is likely to have wood, algae, or chitin [from crustacean shells] in it?” she said.
The study says that polypropylene plastic, which is used in bottle caps, made up 54 percent of the larger particles found in the bottled water. It is not clear, however, whether these particles actually came from the caps. Orb Media told WikiTribune, “it is for researchers and manufacturers to conduct the necessary research to trace microplastic contamination in bottled water back to its source.”
Mason said: “It’s not about pointing fingers at particular brands. It’s really showing that this is everywhere.”
The brands of bottled water tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé), and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).
The Guardian noted that the study has not yet been published in a journal or been through scientific peer review and the UK’s Food Standards Agency said it was unlikely that the level of microplastics found in the water could cause harm. But Dr Andrew Mayes from the University of East Anglia, and a pioneer of the dye technique used, told the BBC that this study was “very high quality analytical chemistry” and that the results were “quite conservative.”
Image: Jonathan Chng