Studies say bottled water is full of small pieces of plastic that can harm human health

Studies say bottled water is full of small pieces of plastic that can harm human health


In a groundbreaking new study, researchers have discovered that bottled water sold in stores could contain 10 to 100 times more pieces of plastic than previously estimated — nanoparticles so small that they cannot be seen under a microscope.

Experts say the nanoplastics, which are 1,000th the width of an average human hair, are so small that they can travel through the tissues of the digestive tract or lungs into the bloodstream, distributing potentially harmful synthetic chemicals throughout the body and into cells.

One liter of water — the equivalent of two standard-sized bottles of bottled water — contains an average of 240,000 plastic particles from seven types of plastic, 90% of which have been identified as nanoplastics and the remainder as microplastics, according to For the new study.

Microplastics are polymer fragments that can range in size from less than 0.2 inch (5 mm) to 1/25,000 of an inch (1 micrometer). Anything smaller is nanoplastic and must be measured in billionths of a metre.

“I have to say this study is very impressive. The body of work they did on this was really, really deep,” said Sherri “Sam” Mason, director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend in Erie, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. …I would call her a pioneer.”

Mason said the new discovery reinforces long-standing expert advice to drink tap water from glass or stainless steel containers to reduce exposure. She added that this advice extends to other foods and drinks packaged in plastic as well.

“People don’t think plastic falls, but it does,” she said. “About the same thing road We’re constantly shedding skin cells, and plastic is constantly shedding bits that break down, like when you open that plastic container of store-bought salad or cheese wrapped in plastic.

Mason was the co-author of a 2018 study that found for the first time the presence of micro- and nanoplastics in 93% of bottled water samples sold by 11 different brands in nine countries.

In that previous study, Mason found that each liter of polluted water contained on average 10 plastic particles wider than a human hair, along with 300 smaller particles. But five years ago, there was no way to analyze those tiny specks or discover if there were more.

“It’s not that we didn’t know nanoplastics existed. We just couldn’t analyze them,” Mason explained.

In the new study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Columbia University present a new technique that can see, calculate and analyze the chemical composition of nanoparticles in bottled water.

Instead of 300 pieces per liter, the team behind the latest study found that the actual number of plastic pieces in three popular water brands sold in the United States is between 110,000 and 370,000, if not higher. (The authors declined to name the bottled water brands they studied.)

However, the new technology was actually able to see millions of nanoparticles in the water, which could be “inorganic nanoparticles, organic molecules and some other plastic particles that are not among the seven main types of plastic we studied,” said co-author and chemist Environmental Bezan Yan. He is an associate research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Jane Houlihan, director of research for Healthy Babies at Bright Futures, a coalition of nonprofits, scientists and donors committed to reducing the risk of having healthy babies, said the innovative new techniques presented in the study open the door for further research to understand the potential risks to health. human better. Exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, who did not participate in the study.

“It points to widespread human exposure to small plastic particles that pose largely unstudied risks,” Houlihan said in an email. “Infants and young children may face the greatest risks, because their developing brains and bodies are often most vulnerable to the effects of exposure to toxins.”

Experts say nanoplastics are the type of plastic pollution that most concerns human health. This is because small molecules can invade individual cells and tissues in major organs, potentially interrupting cellular processes and depositing endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, flame retardants, polyfluorinated substances or PFAS, and heavy metals.

“All of these chemicals are used in the manufacturing of plastic, so if plastic makes its way to us, it carries those chemicals with it,” Mason explained. “Because our body temperature is higher than outside, those chemicals will migrate out of that plastic and end up in our bodies.”

“The chemicals can travel to the liver, kidneys, brain, and even make their way across the placental border and end up in the fetus,” Mason said.

In studies of pregnant mice, researchers found plastic chemicals in the brain, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs of the developing fetus 24 hours after the pregnant mother ingested or breathed in plastic particles, said study co-author Phoebe Stapleton, assistant professor of pharmacology and biology. Toxicology at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey.

“Micro- and nanoplastics have been found in human placentas at this point,” Stapleton said. “They have been found in human lung tissue. It has been found in human feces. It has been found in human blood.

In addition to the toxic chemicals and metals that plastic may carry, another relatively understudied area is whether the plastic polymer itself also harms the body.

Clara Marges/DPA/Image Alliance/Getty Images

Experts say using glass or stainless steel containers is a safer way to consume water.

“The new frontier in plastics is understanding polymers — the plastic part of plastic,” Mason said. “Our ability to understand the potential impact of polymers on human health has been very limited because we have not been able to detect it to this level. Now, with this new approach, we will be able to start doing just that.”

CNN reached out to the International Bottled Water Association, which represents the industry, for a response to the study’s findings.

“This new method needs to be fully reviewed by the scientific community and more research must be done to develop standardized methods for measuring and quantifying nanoplastics in our environment,” a spokesperson for the association told CNN via email.

“There is currently a lack of standardized methods and no scientific consensus about the potential health effects of nanoparticles and microplastics. Therefore, media reports about the presence of these particles in drinking water do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.”

The study’s new method for identifying nanoparticles in bottled water relies on a modified version of Raman spectroscopy, a laser-based technique that can analyze the chemical composition of cells by measuring how molecules vibrate in response to light.

The modified version, called stimulated Raman microscopy, or SRS, adds a second laser “to amplify the previous signal by several orders of magnitude, allowing the detection of previously invisible nanoparticles,” said lead author Wei Min, a professor of chemistry at UCLA. Columbia University in New York City, who invented SRS in 2008.

“This study is the first to apply this microscopic examination to the world of nanoplastics,” Min said.

By dramatically enhancing the image, SRS can clearly recognize and capture images of nanoparticles in milliseconds rather than the hours needed by older technology – and do so without damaging the tissue being imaged.

“But seeing the particles is not good enough, because how do you know that this is plastic or not? To do this, we have developed a new machine-based learning technique that allows us to identify and classify the type of plastic,” Yan said.

At the time of publication, the study’s algorithm was able to identify seven types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

“Based on other studies, we expected that most of the microplastics found in bottled water come from leakage from the plastic bottle itself, which is usually made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” said lead author Niixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University. “) university.

“However, we found that there are actually many different types of plastic in a water bottle, and that different types of plastic have different size distributions,” she said. “The PET particles were larger, while others were up to 200 nanometers in size, which is much smaller.”

Studies have found that PET plastic particles can break off by repeatedly opening and closing the bottle cap, crushing the bottle. Or expose it to heat, as is the case in a car.

Now that nanoplastics can be identified and classified, it is possible to seek answers to all kinds of questions. For example, if the nanoplastics floating in bottled water aren’t from the bottle itself, where did they come from? The Columbia team is investigating the hypothesis that other nanoplastics may come from a water source, perhaps contaminated as part of the manufacturing process.

Another important question: Which contains fewer nanoplastics and chemical residues, bottled water or tap water?

“Several studies have reported decreased levels of microplastics in tap water. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that levels of nanoplastics in tap water will also decrease, considering their common sources.” He said. “We’re doing research on that now.”

What happens once the plastic polymer and endocrine disrupting chemicals enter the body’s cells? Do the invaders remain, wreaking havoc by disrupting or damaging cellular processes, or does the body succeed in expelling them?

“We know that these tiny particles get into the body, and we know that larger proportions of smaller nanoparticles get into cells, but we don’t know exactly where they go in the cell or what they do,” Stapleton said. . “We don’t know if or how they will come back again.”

However, Min said the new technology is well suited for analyzing human tissue samples and should provide some answers soon.

“If you look at our raw data, it’s actually a series of images,” Min said. “In fact, we have a lot of data to show if a particle has entered a particular location in a particular type of cell, we will be able to pinpoint its precise location in space.”

As science explores these questions and others, there are things people can do to reduce their exposure to plastics, says Healthy Kids’ Houlihan from Bright Futures.

“We can avoid consuming foods and beverages in plastic packaging. We can wear clothes made from natural fabrics and buy consumer products made from natural materials,” Houlihan said. “We can simply evaluate the amount of plastic in our daily lives and find alternatives whenever possible.”

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