Bottled Water Contains Dangerously High Levels of Detectable Nanoplastics: Study

Industry lobbyists claim the study's findings may "unnecessarily scare" consumers, despite a lack of information on the potential health risks bottled water nanoplastics.

Bottled water contains up to 100 times more tiny particles of potentially toxic plastic than was previously believed, according to the findings of a new study.

High levels of nanoparticles were found in popular bottled water brands, with particles that may be small enough to enter the bloodstream and cause serious health side effects, according to findings published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a high-powered laser process, researchers from Columbia University and Rutgers University tested water samples from three popular brands of bottled water sold in the U.S. to detect specific molecules the plastics generate.

Older research examining plastic particles in bottled water has focused on microplastics, which are tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter, or about 5,000 micrometers. However, this new study used a technology developed by one of the researchers, which focused on nanoplastic particles less than 1 micrometer in diameter. For comparison, the diameter of a single human hair is about 70 micrometers.

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According to the findings, the samples contained 110,000 to 370,000 nanoparticles of plastic per liter, with 240,000 detectable nanoparticles on average.

Prior research indicated an average liter of bottled water contains approximately 300 particles of microplastics. Researchers said the new measurements indicate the levels of nanoplastics found in the samples were 100 times higher than found in those earlier studies.

The study also indicated 90% of the particles found in bottled water are nanoparticles and only about 10% of particles were microparticles.. Researchers said the level of nanoplastics found in the samples were “orders of magnitude” greater than levels of microplastics previously reported.

Microplastic and Nanoplastic Risks

A study published in 2019 estimated the average person consumes about 90,000 particles of microplastics every year. Considering the new research, the number of nanoparticles consumed by Americans can be estimated at a much greater level, the researchers warn, reaching 1 million particles per year or more. Other studies warn the levels of microplastics consumed by infants are even greater than that of adults.

Many researchers believe nanoplastics may be more harmful to humans than microplastics. While some micro- and nanoplastics are flushed out by the body, nanoplastics are much smaller and enter the body more easily, possibly infiltrating the bloodstream as well as organs.

Research has not definitively linked micro- or nanoplastic consumption to adverse health effects. However, other studies conducted on plastics humans are commonly exposed to indicate they contain phthalates and other harmful chemicals.

Chemicals such as bisphenol-A and other substitutes are endocrine disruptors and can impair the way the human body functions, leading to stunted brain development, impaired thyroid function, and increased risk of death, according to prior research.

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) issued a response to the study the same day the research was published, rebutting the findings.

“There currently is both a lack of standardized methods and no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of nano- and microplastic particles,” according to the IBWA statement. “Therefore, media reports about these particles in drinking water do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.”

Current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations require bottled water to be filtered, but only calls for particles larger than one micron in size to be removed.


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