Study finds microplastics in at least 90% of bottled water; WHO launches review

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The world’s leading brands of bottled water are contaminated with tiny plastic particles that are likely seeping in during the packaging process, according to a major study across nine countries published on Wednesday.

Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

recently released study tested 259 water bottles from 11 brands sold across nine countries, including the United States, and found that 93% of those tested contained microplastic contamination. The research, which was conducted by researchers led by Sherri Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonia and non-profit journalism organization Orb Media, found an average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter of water, which is twice the amount of contamination found in tap water, according to another Orb Media investigation

According to the new study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene – the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps. The bottles analysed were bought in the US, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand.

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water – the dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials.

“I think it is coming through the process of bottling the water,” Sherri Mason told AFP. “I think that most of the plastic that we are seeing is coming from the bottle itself, it is coming from the cap, it is coming from the industrial process of bottling the water.” As much as 65 per cent of the particles we found were actually fragments and not fibres.

The brands Orb Media said it had 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) andz Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

Plastic microfibres found in bottles water. Image Source: Abigail Barrows
Plastic microfibres found in bottled water. Image Source: Abigail Barrows

A second unrelated analysis, also just released, was commissioned by campaign group Story of Stuff and examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the US.It also found plastic microfibres were widespread. The brand Boxed Water contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibres per litre. Ozarka and Ice Mountain, both owned by Nestlé, had concentrations at 15 and 11 pieces per litre, respectively. Fiji Water had 12 plastic fibres per litre.

“Plastic microfibres are easily airborne. Clearly that’s occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn,” said Abigail Barrows, who carried out the research for Story of Stuff in her laboratory in Maine.

How dangerous is it to drink bottled water?

Researchers caution that it’s unclear what effect microplastics can have on the human body. And, microplastics have been found in everything ranging from fish and shellfish found at the supermarket to tap water.

“There are connections to increases in certain kinds of cancer to lower sperm count to increases in conditions like ADHD and autism,” said Mason. “We know that they are connected to these synthetic chemicals in the environment and we know that plastics are providing kind of a means to get those chemicals into our bodies.”

The latest study has not been peer-reviewed or published in a journal. Dr Andrew Mayes, a University of East Anglia scientist who developed the Nile red technique, told Orb Media he was “satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab”.

The International Bottled Water Association President and CEO Joe Doss said in a statement that the “non-peer reviewed study” isn’t based on sound science, and the “study’s findings do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.”

“Consumers can remain confident that bottled water products, like all food and beverages, are strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, thus, are safe for consumption,” Doss said in a statement. “The bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products.”

The World Health Organization confirmed to BBC that it is launching a review into the potential risks of drinking bottled water.