A study published in Frontiers in Chemistry shared the unsettling news that bottled water is contaminated with high levels of microplastics. The study analyzed samples taken from 259 bottled waters sold in several countries and found that 93% of them contained “microplastic” particles.
Microplastics are synthetic polymer particles that are found in many items used by people, every day. Their size ranges from 5 millimetres down to 100 nanometres in diameter. They can be found in items like laundry and dishwasher pods, beer, wet wipes, in the lint from drying synthetic clothing, tea bags, salt, even to-go cups. These are just a few sources, but it was a consistent finding that bottled water contained higher levels than other sources.
The question is- how does consuming microplastics affect the human body and impact overall health? Many of those particles weren’t all that small. “Some were definitely visible without a magnifying glass or microscope,” says Sherri Mason, author of the study and a sustainability researcher at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.
11 brands of bottled water commonly found in the U.S. were tested. Samples varied in plastic concentrations, and the average across brands was 325 microplastic particles per liter of bottled water. Nestlé Pure Life had the largest average concentration of plastic particles out of all the brands tested; one sample from the brand was found to contain more than 10,000 microplastic particles per liter. The microplastics came from the packaging, which means we could be exposing ourselves to more of them every time we fill up a plastic bottle in order to reduce waste.
Because of the wide variety of sources of micro plastics, Mason says the problem of contamination is far bigger than bottled water. “These plastic particles are in our air, in our water and in our soil,” she says. Eventually, the microplastics end up in our bodies.
Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who led the study, said: “This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases.”
The smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver,” said Schwabl, who will report on the study at UEG Week in Vienna on Tuesday. “Now that we have the first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
Plastic particles in the gut could affect the digestive system’s immune response or could aid the transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens, the researchers said. Researchers say that the implications of microplastics in human health are serious. Evidence suggests there may be a link to the obesity epidemic and in other metabolic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as cancer and reproductive problems and neural problems like attention deficit disorder.
Avoiding microplastics is difficult, especially considering their widespread origins. But, avoiding consuming them via bottled water is worthwhile for several reasons. Most of the particles the most recent study found in plastic water bottles turned out to be fragments of polypropylene, which is the type of plastic used to make bottled water caps. This led researchers to conclude it was the bottling that led to the microplastics to end up in the water. Considering the levels of microplastics found in some brands were at rates twice that found in other sources (like beer or table salt), avoiding bottled water could significantly reduce your exposure. Use reusable bottles that are made of stainless steel or glass when on the go.
Drinking water from the tap, which can be contaminated with microplastics from the soil from ground reservoirs, or equipment as it makes its way to your home, still exposes you to lower levels of mjcroplastics than bottled water. And, using water filters can help eliminate the microplastics from tap water even further. Considering that mjcroplastic sizes vary, it’s important to understand this will impact the type of filtering required.
There are three types of filters that will help remove microplastics:
- Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) faucet filters: This type of filters contaminants down to about 5 microns (micrometers) so most microplastics will be removed.
- Carbon Blocks faucet filters: A carbon block which filters contaminants down to 2 microns will get rid of all known microplastics. TAPP 2 is an example, of a carbon block filter, which additionally boasts biodegradable refills.
- Reverse Osmosis filters: This method can filter down to 0.001 microns, so will remove microplastics, but are a lot more expensive and require maintenance.
A carbon block filter of 2-microns or Reverse Osmosis will filter the smallest microplastics found. Taking price in consideration, a carbon block filter is an affordable and environmentally friendly way to keep the family safe from microplastics.
The rapid accumulation of microplastics in our planet is not only alarming because of the findings that humans are frequently digesting them. Microplastics are being found in the ocean impacting marine life, in riverbeds, some of the highest mountains, and even in soil in remote areas. Microplastics appear to be spreading faster than we realize, and reducing usage of plastics is the only way to help counteract that.
Using stainless steel or glass bottles for water helps eliminate plastic bottle waste and limits exposure to the microplastics in bottled water. Cut back on plastic waste by using reusable bags like Baggu for groceries and hauling items, or Stasher for snacks and meals (rather than plastic zip bags). Support companies that are creative with their usage of recycled products like Green Toys that make cars, trains and figurines out of recycled milk jugs. With every purchase of a bracelet from 4Occean, a pound of plastic waste is removed from the oceans and coastlines- making it a great gift idea and it helps our earth. Allbirds makes shoes from 100% recycled materials, and Rothys recycles plastic bottles for their shoes- both brands are also incredibly stylish.
A great impact can also be in recycling at home, and also re purposing items that you would otherwise toss in the trash. Here are some great ideas, as well as some fun crafts that can be done with kids to incorporate them in the effort to protect our planet and their health. The sooner we make a contribution to preserving our earth and our health, the more likely our efforts will make a significant impact.