Recent research has uncovered that commonly sold bottled water may contain nanoplastics in quantities far greater than previously known. These particles, measuring a mere fraction of the width of a human hair, are so minuscule that they evade detection by standard microscopes. This finding raises concerns about the potential health risks associated with the consumption of bottled water.
In Taiwan, 2022, the presence of discarded plastic water bottles across beaches highlighted the increasing environmental impact of the plastic water bottle industry. The new study, however, shifts focus to the health implications of nanoplastics-particles capable of penetrating human tissues, potentially carrying harmful chemicals throughout the body.
Analyzing one liter of water, the researchers discovered an average of 240,000 plastic particles, predominantly nanoplastics. These particles are smaller than microplastics, which are already known to pollute water sources. Nanoplastics, defined as particles smaller than a micrometer, represent a more insidious form of pollution due to their ability to infiltrate cellular structures in the body.
Sherri “Sam” Mason, a sustainability expert at Penn State Behrend, praised the study for its depth and novel insights, despite not being involved in it directly. Mason emphasized the growing advice to opt for tap water in glass or stainless steel containers as a precaution against plastic exposure.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by a team from Columbia University. They developed a new technology capable of detecting, counting, and analyzing the chemical structure of nanoparticles in bottled water. The results showed that the actual number of plastic particles in bottled water was substantially higher than previously estimated.
Jane Houlihan, research director at Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, noted the potential health risks posed by these particles, especially to infants and young children. The study paves the way for further research into the impact of nanoplastics on human health, including their ability to transport toxic chemicals like bisphenols and phthalates into the body.
In addition to potential health risks, the study also raises questions about the sources of these nanoplastics and their prevalence in both bottled and tap water. As the scientific community continues to explore these issues, consumers are advised to consider alternatives to plastic containers and products to minimize exposure.