Individuals who regularly drink bottled water consume large amounts of microplastics, which could potentially affect their health, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers indicate drinking bottled water exclusively adds more than 90,000 particles of microplastics to a person’s diet every single year.
Microplastics are tiny microscopic pieces of plastic. These can be ingested with food, beverages, and even the air we breathe. Research indicates some microplastics can enter our tissues, trigger immune reactions, or release toxic substances and pollutants absorbed from the environment, including heavy metals.
Researchers evaluated the number of microplastic particles in commonly consumed foods compared to a person’s daily intake of food. They used 402 data points from 26 studies with over 3,600 samples.
They analyzed consumption from eight categories: air, alcohol, bottled water, honey, seafood, salt, sugar, and tap water. This evaluated roughly 15% of Americans’ caloric intake.
The data indicates the annual consumption of microplastics ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles each year depending on age and sex. Estimates increase to 74,000 and 121,000 when they factored in particles consumed through inhalation.
With inhalation included, annual ingestion rates averaged 81,000 for boys; 74,000 for girls; 121,000 for men; and 98,000 for women.
People who used only tap water consumed roughly an additional 4,000 microplastic particles annually. Those who met the recommended daily water intake drinking only bottled water ingested an additional 90,000 micro plastics annually.
Drinking an extra 90,000 micro plastics each year can increase a person’s intake up to 130,000 to 200,000 particles each year.
The exposure risk to humans is not proven. No research clearly indicates what effects microplastic may have on human health. However some studies indicate the chemicals in other plastics are linked to harmful side effects. For example, phthalates like bisphenol-A (BPA) lower thyroid levels, impair hormones, and stunt brain development.
Microplastics are ubiquitous in the ecosystem. They enter the environment after animals ingest them. Yet, microplastics also contaminate food during production and packaging leaching into the food we eat every day.
One study found levels of microplastic particles ranging from 50 to 500 microns in humans. Each person tested had at least 20 particles in every 3.5 ounces of stool and more than 95% of the particles came from food packaging plastics, like water bottles and fast food wrappers.
The levels of exposure noted in the new study are only estimates. Exposure can vary widely, but researchers warn the exposure levels are likely underestimates since plastic products are widely used in human daily life which can lead to further exposure.