Water in plastic bottles contains hundreds of thousands of microplastic particles, new study claims

Cancer concerns were sparked by a new study that determined just how prevalent nanoplastics are in bottled water: “Previously, this was just a dark area, uncharted.”

For bottled water consumers, the risks of contaminants was hardly a new issue as evidenced by the shift in products promoting “BPA free” on their plastic containers to mark them safe from a particular industrial chemical. However, a previous study on nanoplastics within bottled water itself was found to be off the mark by a thousandfold according to a new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Made possible by the development of dual laser microscope technology by University of Columbia physical chemist Wei Min, a co-author on the study, researchers determined that, on average, a one-liter bottle of water contained 240,000 plastic nanoparticles compared to 5.5 in the same volume of tap water.

After examining three separate brands using Stimulated Raman Scattering microscopy, the highest estimate was 370,000 of these nanoparticles compared to only about 300 microplastic particles in a 2018 study.

Study co-author from the University of Columbia, environmental chemist and professor Beizhan Yan, told the Daily Mail of identifying the common nanoparticle polyethylene terephthalate (PET), “This was not surprising, since that is what many water bottles are made of.”

“PET is also used for bottled sodas, sports drinks, and products such as ketchup and mayonnaise,” he remarked. “It probably gets into the water as bits slough off when the bottle is squeezed or gets exposed to heat.”

Identified in the samples even more than PET was polyamide, a kind of nylon. “Ironically,” said Yan, “this probably comes from plastic filters used to supposedly purify the water before it is bottled.”

While the study also identified polymethyl methacrylate, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the researchers determined that nanoplastics made up only 10% of the nanoparticles in the bottled water and were unable to identify the remaining 90%.

“Previously this was just a dark area, uncharted,” said Min. “The study of nanoplastics matters because the smaller things are, the more easily they can get inside us.”

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

Not a part of the study, Duke University professor of medicine and comparative oncology group director Jason Somarelli spoke to his own unpublished research and said to the AP, “The danger of plastics themselves is still an unanswered question. For me, the additives are the most concerning. We and others have shown that these nanoplastics can be internalized into cells and we know that nanoplastics carry all kinds of chemical additives that could cause cell stress, DNA damage and change metabolism or cell function.”

He claimed to have found over 100 “known cancer-causing chemicals in these plastics” in his own studies.

Despite the stated concerns, the International Bottle Water Association downplayed coverage of the study as little more than panic porn in a statement to the media that read, “There currently is both a lack of standardized (measuring) methods and no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of nano- and microplastic particles. Therefore, media reports about these particles in drinking water do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.”

Kevin Haggerty

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