Nanoplastics heavily found in bottled water likely comes from outside source, study finds

Researchers have discovered that the average liter of bottled water contains 240,000 pieces of nanoplastics, which are super tiny particles that some worry may be linked to health problems.

“To conduct their analysis, researchers at Columbia and Rutgers universities filtered bottled water from three different brands through an ultrafine membrane,” according to an exclusive report from Grist.

“They then shone two lasers, calibrated to recognize the chemical bonds binding the nanoplastic particles, onto the membrane. Then it was a simple matter of counting all the different particles of plastic. They estimated that a typical one-liter bottle contains 240,000 of them.”

That’s reportedly 10 to 100 times more than previously published estimates.

The crazy thing is that the nanoplastic particles reportedly aren’t from the water bottle itself. Most water bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, but the particles found in the water contained polyamide (a type of nylon) and polystyrene.

According to Grist, this suggests that “the pollutants are, in a bit of irony, getting into bottled water as a result of the filling and purification process.”

What remains unclear is whether these pollutants are actually dangerous to people.

“That’s currently under review,” study co-author Phoebe Stapleton, a toxicologist at Rutgers, told the Associated Press. “We don’t know if it’s dangerous or how dangerous. We do know that they are getting into the tissues (of mammals, including people) … and the current research is looking at what they’re doing in the cells.”

Nonetheless, the findings pose “significant implications for human health,” according to Grist, because “nanoplastics are small enough to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.”

“After entering the bloodstream, they can lodge in the heart and brain, and can even cross through the placenta to infiltrate unborn babies,” Grist further notes.

Moreover, toxicologists reportedly worry that the particles could release chemicals or pathogens that they picked up in the environment.

“Some research suggests potential damage to DNA and the brain, as well as to the immune, reproductive, and nervous systems,” Grist notes.

“We know we’re getting exposed, but we don’t know the toxicity of the exposures,” Beizhan Yan, another of the paper’s co-authors and an environmental chemist at Columbia University, told Grist.

In a statement, the International Bottle Water Association for their part dismissed the study as a nothing burger.

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

In fairness to them, Dr. Konstantinos Lazaridis, a gastroenterologist who studies the role of environmental factors in liver disease at Mayo Clinic, told The New York Times that the presence of nanoplastics in human tissue “doesn’t necessarily mean that it causes damage.”

“It’s possible that tiny plastic pieces simply pass through most people’s bodies without causing much harm, Dr. Lazaridis said. Or it might be that these environmental particles only have an impact in people who already have genetic predispositions to disease,” according to the Times.

The researchers themselves aren’t taking any risks and have reportedly all cut back their bottled water consumption.

What can you yourself do to reduce your risk, besides drinking less bottled water?

For one, drink tap water with a water filter, but be certain the filter itself isn’t made out of plastic.

“Instead, use ceramic or carbon filters certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association,” according to the Times.

In addition, when you’re on the go, use a glass or stainless steel bottle to store your water.

“But if you need to hydrate and all you can access is a plastic water bottle, that’s OK, Dr. [Douglas] Walker said. You can minimize plastic degradation by keeping your bottle away from sunlight and heat,” the Times notes.

Walker is an analytical chemist at Emory University.

Below are some of the more interesting social media responses to this bombshell story:

Vivek Saxena

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