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Bottled water is bad – but microplastics aren’t the reason


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From new scientist magazine...March 24 2018
 

THE discovery that most bottled water is contaminated with tiny fragments of plastic stirred up mild panic last week. But do these microplastics actually pose a risk?

According to a study commissioned by Orb Media, a global consortium of journalists, samples from 93 per cent of 259 bottles contained microplastic particles – an average of 10 particles wider than 100 micrometres, or roughly the width of a human hair, per litre. The bottles were purchased from countries in five different continents, although not in Europe.

Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who carried out the work, found that 54 per cent of these particles were polypropylene, the plastic from which bottle caps are fabricated, suggesting that the caps may have been the source. Four per cent were industrial lubricants, so contamination probably happened in the factory.

Mason also found smaller particles – an average of 325 per litre, although some samples contained up to 10,000 per litre. These were too small to be verified as microplastics, but it seems likely that they are, says Mason. These accounted for 95 per cent of all particles found, ranging from 6.5 to 100 micrometres in size.

Does it matter if we swallow this stuff? We don't really know, but there's no need to panic. "There's no clear evidence about human health risks," says Richard Thompson of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, UK.

Thompson says any risk depends on how many particles we are exposed to. The amounts in bottled water are probably minimal compared with other sources, such as airborne dust and textile fibres, and food such as shellfish and crustaceans, which absorb the particles from the sea.

study on microplastics last year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that hazards to seafood consumers are minimal, but deserve deeper investigation. It cited research in rodents and dogs showing that microplastics larger than 150 micrometres aren't absorbed, but get excreted in faeces. In all, more than 90 per cent of ingested micro and nanoplastics pass through consumers like this, says the FAO.

Particles less than 20 micrometres across seem to have more potential to cross into blood and accumulate in organs, but whether this is harmful is unknown. Only at unrealistically huge doses – millions of particles a day – were there even remote signs of concern in test animals, such as liver inflammation. "Such effects have so far not been reported in humans," says the FAO report.

Thompson doubts there is any reason to panic over the bottled water findings, also noting that the study hasn't been peer reviewed. "I'm not saying it's not reliable, but it's not gone through the normal processes that would ensure all the necessary details are there," he says.

The most important thing, says Thompson, is that a huge amount of bottled water consumption in Western nations is unnecessary because tap water is high-quality and easily available. So next time you take a swig, don't worry about the minuscule plastic in your water – instead, fret about the environmental impact of producing and transporting something you really don't need. "That, to me, would be a much bigger concern," he says.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Plastic in bottled water shouldn't be a worry"

Andy Coghlan

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I don’t particularly worry about the plastic. It’s what made it possible for me to find a nice sized glob of algae in a bottle of water I bought. For me, I’m trying to be cognizant of who had whatever business in what I am putting in my mouth! Not easy. I do not make my bread!

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I do believe the plastics are endocrine disruptors. Sure, they took Bisphenol A out of a lot of stuff.. but BPB, BPC, BPD, etc can be just as bad. I still often end up using some bottled water despite having a countertop filter (which is plastic), because I don't always remember to refill it and it isn't convenient for when in bed or to fit in a backpack on the go. I'm also sick of spitting pieces of plastic out of cheap salmon filets...

Here's hoping that we can figure out how to clean it up and break it down within 100 years. The greater wax moth seems to have an enzyme that can digest propylene.


Edited by Myew
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