In 2018 a CBC Marketplace investigation of bottled water found plastic contamination, including rayon and polyethylene, in 30 of 50 water bottles tested. Orb Media, an independent journalism company then followed up with their own research and their tests on more than 250 bottles from 11 brands reveal contamination with plastic including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Brands included Aquafina, Nestle Pure Life, Evian, Dasani and San Pelligerino. On average, the bottled water tested contained 325 pieces of microplastic per liter — just over 10 of those pieces were at least 100 microns in size, the rest were smaller. Most of these bits and pieces are so tiny they’re invisible to the naked eye. To reveal them, the researchers used a special dye that binds to plastic, combined with infrared laser and blue light. Using orange-colored glasses, you can see the particles appear light up like stars in the night sky when the water sample is viewed under a microscope.
Bottled water evokes safety and convenience in a world full of real and perceived threats to personal and public health. Humans need approximately two liters of fluids a day to stay hydrated and healthy—even more in hot and arid regions. 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.
How this might affect your health, and that of your family, is still something of a mystery. As many as 90 percent of microplastic particles consumed might pass through the gut without leaving an impression, according to a 2016 report on plastic in seafood by the European Food Safety Authority. However, the Orb Report stated:
“Some particles might lodge in the intestinal wall. Others might be taken up by intestinal tissue to travel through the body’s lymphatic system. Particles around 110 microns in size (0.11 millimeters) can be taken into the body’s hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the intestines, gallbladder, pancreas and spleen to the liver.
“Smaller debris, in the range of 20 microns (0.02 mm) has been shown to enter the bloodstream before it lodges in the kidneys and liver … Ninety percent of the plastic particles we found … were between 100 and 6.5 microns — small enough … for some to cross the gut into your body.”
Very little research has been done on how frequently this might occur, or the health burden it might represent—a knowledge gap that some researchers say is in itself reason for concern.
So How Did Your Favorite Bottled Water Fare?
The least contaminated brands included:
The most contaminated brands included:
So What’s the Best Solution?
A report by the UK Government Office for Science warned that plastic debris littering the world’s oceans — 70% of which does not biodegrade — is likely to triple by 2025 unless radical steps are taken to curb pollution. Already, by 2018, an estimated 150 million tons of plastic had contaminated our oceans, with about 8 million tons being added each year. At the rate we’re going, estimates by the World Economic Forum suggest that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. Already, in some ocean waters plastic exceeds plankton by a factor of 6-to-1.
So the solution may be to stop drinking bottled water altogether and go back to tap water. Bottled water samples contained nearly twice as many pieces of microplastic per liter (10.4) than the tap water samples (4.45). Of course, tap water comes with many risks and may not be a healthy choice where you live. Consider buying a Berkey water filter which will filter out bacteria, viruses, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides and other harmful toxins. You could also invest in a reverse osmosis system for your whole house or just install the system for your kitchen sink to save money. When you travel, consider bringing your own reusable water bottle (not plastic, of course) and fill it from a glass water bottle or other filtered water that’s not stored in plastic.
SYNTHETIC POLYMER CONTAMINATION IN BOTTLED WATER
Sherri A. Mason*
, Victoria Welch, Joseph Neratko
State University of New York at Fredonia, Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences
Bottled Water Contains Nearly Twice as Much Plastic as Tap Water, Tests Show • Children’s Health Defense (childrenshealthdefense.org)