Alarming levels of nanoplastics in bottled water, posing potential threat to human cells: Study

Bottled drinking water. [FPK Photo/ kaisar Ali]

Researchers have identified that bottled water available in retail stores may harbor 10 to 100 times more minuscule plastic particles than previously thought.

These nanoparticles, too small to be visible under a microscope, measure 1,000th the average width of a human hair. Their size allows them to traverse the tissues of the digestive tract or lungs, entering the bloodstream and disseminating potentially harmful synthetic chemicals throughout the body and into cells, as suggested by experts.

The study found that one liter of water, equivalent to two standard-size bottled waters, contained an average of 240,000 plastic particles representing seven types of plastics. Among these particles, 90% were identified as nanoplastics, with the remainder being microplastics.

Microplastics refer to fragments of polymers, ranging from less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) down to 1/25,000th of an inch (1 micrometer), with anything smaller classified as nanoplastics, measured in billionths of a meter.

Sherri “Sam” Mason, director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend, praised a study, calling it groundbreaking, emphasizing the need to consume tap water from glass or stainless steel containers to minimize exposure to microplastics.

This advice extends to other plastic-packaged foods and drinks due to the continuous shedding of plastic particles during handling.

Mason, previously involved in a 2018 study, which identified micro- and nanoplastics in bottled water, underscored the shedding of plastics. The study revealed that each liter of tainted water contained an average of 10 plastic particles wider than a human hair and 300 smaller particles. However, at that time, the technology was inadequate to analyze these tiny particles.

In the recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Columbia University introduced a new technology capable of detecting, counting, and analyzing nanoparticles in bottled water.

Contrary to the previous findings, the new technology revealed that three popular U.S. water brands contained between 110,000 and 370,000 plastic particles per liter, if not more. The researchers refrained from disclosing the specific brands studied. Additionally, the technology identified millions of nanoparticles, including inorganic and organic particles, and other plastic particles beyond the seven major types studied.

This innovative technique opens avenues for further research into the potential health risks associated with nanoplastic exposure, particularly concerning infants and young children, who may be more vulnerable to the impacts of these minuscule particles. Experts highlight the dangers posed by nanoplastics to human health, as these tiny particles can infiltrate cells and tissues in major organs, potentially disrupting cellular processes and depositing harmful chemicals used in plastic manufacturing.

Sherri Mason emphasised that when plastics enter the body, they bring along chemicals such as bisphenols, phthalates, flame retardants, PFAS, and heavy metals. These chemicals, originating from plastic, can migrate into the body due to its higher temperature than the external environment.

The potential risks include the transport of these chemicals to vital organs, the brain, and even across the placental boundary to affect unborn children.

Studies on pregnant mice have demonstrated the presence of plastic chemicals in various organs of developing babies shortly after the pregnant mother ingested or inhaled plastic particles. Notably, micro and nanoplastics have been found in human placenta, lung tissues, feces, and blood, raising concerns about their pervasive impact on human health.

Furthermore, the potential harm caused directly by the plastic polymer itself remains an understudied aspect in this context.

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