Is There Plastic in Your Bottled Water?

A new study finds that most bottles of water may contain microplastics.


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One word that may soon send chills down the spines of those of us who drink bottled water, even on occasion: microplastics.

A new study has found microscopic pieces of plastic in 93 percent of bottled water. The research, spearheaded by nonprofit Washington, DC-based journalism organization Orb Media and conducted by scientists at the State University of New York, included testing on more than 250 bottles of water spanning, 11 different brands, with varying amounts detected, even within different bottles sold by under the same brand. 

The results indicated that a single bottle of water may contain “dozens or possibly even thousands of microscopic plastic particles,” Orb Media reports on its own findings, revealing “contamination with plastic including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).”

“Orb’s findings suggest that a person who drinks a liter of bottled water a day might be consuming tens of thousands of microplastic particles each year,” the media company reports. “How this might affect your health, and that of your family, is still something of a mystery.”

Unclear, at this time, is how much of those microplastics pass through our system without incident, how many stick around and what effect that may have once there. 

Also unclear is just how concerned consumers may be about the study, which has prompted the World Health Organization to launch a review of potential risks from plastic in bottled water. Experts’ opinions may differ.

In an interview with Orb, Martin Wagner, a toxicologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, appeared to shrug off the findings: “Based on what we know so far about the toxicity of microplastics — and our knowledge is very limited on that — I would say that there is little health concern, as far as we know,” he said. “I believe that our body is very well-adapted in dealing with those non-digestible particles.”

But Jane Muncke, managing director and chief scientist at the Zurich-based research organization Food Packaging Forum, sounded a bit more alarmed. “What does it mean if we have this large amount of microplastic bits in food?” she asked Orb. “Is there some kind of interaction in the gastrointestinal tract with these microparticles...which then could potentially lead to chemicals being taken up, getting into the human body? We don't have actual experimental data to confirm that assumption. We don't know all the chemicals in plastics, even... That, combined with the highly likely population-wide exposure to this stuff … I think it's something to be concerned about.”

Food Network nutrition expert and author Dana Angelo White, MS RD ATC, says the study indicates a need for further investigation. 

“More research is needed to determine if these findings are consistent across the brand identified in the report — and others,” she tells Healthy Eats. “If there are tiny pieces of plastic in these bottles, what impact will that have on the health of bottled water drinkers? Sadly, I'm not sure there's a trusted answer at this point.”

So what’s a water drinker to do? 

“At the very least,” White says, “it's another reason to consider sticking to re-useable water bottles and avoid the plastic ones as much as possible.”

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