A recent study found that the average one-liter (33-ounce) bottle of water includes almost 240,000 plastic pieces. The researchers concluded that a significant portion of those fragments have previously gone unreported, indicating that health risks associated with plastic pollution may be greatly underestimated.
The first study of its kind to assess bottled water for the presence of “nanoplastics”—plastic particles smaller than one micrometre, or one-seventieth the breadth of a human hair—was peer-reviewed and published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. Since prior research only took into account microplastics, or particles between 1 and 5,000 micrometres, the results indicate that bottled water may contain up to 100 times more plastic particles than previously thought.
The study on Nanoplastics
Given their smaller size and ability to enter the bloodstream, infiltrate human cells, and affect organs, nanoplastics are a greater hazard to human health than microplastics. Moreover, nanoplastics can enter the bodies of unborn children through the placenta. Although they have long known that bottled water contains them, scientists have not had the tools to identify specific nanoparticles.
The co-authors of the study overcame this difficulty by developing a novel microscopy method, developing a data-driven algorithm, and utilising both to examine about twenty-five one-liter water bottles that were bought from three well-known US brands. (The brands were not disclosed by the researchers.) Ninety percent of the microscopic plastic particles, ranging from 110,000 to 370,000, were discovered in each litre. “This study provides a powerful tool to address the challenges in analyzing nanoplastics, which holds the promise to bridge the current knowledge gap on plastic pollution at the nano level,” says Naixin Qian, the study’s lead author and a graduate student of Columbia University in chemistry.
Previously this was just a dark area, uncharted. Toxicity studies were just guessing what’s in there,” adds Beizhan Yan, the study’s co-author and an environmental chemist at Columbia University. “This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before.
The researchers focused on seven popular types of plastic, such as polyamide, which is frequently used in filters to filter water before it is bottled, and polyethene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make many water bottles. However, scientists also found a large number of unknown nanoparticles in the water. There may be far more plastic in bottled water if some of those are also nanoplastics.
The world produces over 450 million tons of plastic each year
Over 450 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide annually, most of which is disposed away in landfills. Most plastics eventually break down into smaller bits rather than decomposing naturally. Additionally, while plastic-containing products—many synthetic fabrics included—are being used, tiny pieces of plastic are frequently lost. Although plastic pollution is a global problem, scientists are particularly interested in bottled water due to its potential to introduce plastic particles into human bodies. According to a 2022 study, tap water has a lower concentration of microplastics than bottled water. A 2021 report issued a warning, stating that merely opening and shutting the cap on a plastic water bottle can cause small plastic particles to be released into the drink.
According to the recent study’s co-authors, their investigation will not end with bottled water. Additionally, they intend to look into nanoplastics in snow samples taken from western Antarctica and tap water.
By: Gursharan Kaur