NEW STUDY FINDS 93%OF BOTTLED WATER TESTED CONTAINS MICROPLASTICS, COCA-COLA AND NESTLÉ WATERS REACT
This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems
by Cori Marshall
In September WaterToday reported that a team of researchers from the State University of New York at Fredonia had undertaken a study that found a prevalence of microplastic particles in tap water. The team has once again, under the leadership of Dr Sherri A. Mason, Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, tackled the question of microplastic in bottled water.
Released last week, Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water, made some startling findings. The study "tested 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 brands." the water was purchased in eight countries.
Of what was tested it was found that "93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination." The concentration of particles varied, and ranged from 0-10 thousand per litre, with an average concentration of "325 microplastic particles per litre of bottled water."
The microplastic particulate matter found in the bottles of water were not uniform and came in different forms. The study observed microplastic fragments, fibres, pellets, films and foams. The matter found in the bottles were composed of different polymers, of the particles that could be identified "polypropylene was found to be the most common polymeric material (54%)".
The study also identified the presence of nylon (16%), polystyrene (11%), polyethylene (10%), and a polyester/polyethylene terephthalate (6%).
A very concerning finding was that the "data suggests contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself." Polypropylene, the most common polymer fragment found in this study, is "a common plastic used for the bottle cap," and "4% of particles showed a presence of industrial lubricants."
Among the brands that were tested in this study were Coca-Cola's Dasani, and Nestlé Pure Life. We contacted both bottlers for their reactions to the study. Both companies issued a statement to WaterToday.
Coca-Cola Company Public Affairs and Communications said:
"the quality of our products and safety of our customers are of paramount importance to us and we take them seriously (...) we stand by the safety of our products, and welcome continued study of plastics in our environment."
Nestlé Waters Canada statement echoed that of the Coca-Cola Company's:
"the safety and quality of our products is our priority, (...) our testing meets, and in many cases exceed Health Canada's (HC) requirements."
The water bottlers highlighted their testing and filtration processes, Coca-Cola said that the water used in their drinks "is subject to multi-step filtration processes", while Nestlé said that they have tested for microplastics using state of the art processes and techniques.
Both companies pointed out the ubiquitous presence of microplastics that was observed in the 2017 tap water study. The pervasiveness of microplastic aside, the human body is not meant to ingest polymers. In the end it comes down to the question of what are the potential impacts microplastics in bottled water presents to the health of the consumer?
Louise Hénault-Ethier, Head of Science Projects at David Suzuki Foundation, explained the "bisphenols used to produce plastic are known to have endocrine disruption properties, they disturb the normal functioning of the hormones in your body." Hénault-Ethier added that the disruptive properties "could trigger changes in fertility, cancer, and other changes at the biochemical level."
"Endocrine disruptors can be active at very low concentrations, Hénault-Ethier said, "we have known for a long time that whenever you package something in plastic, there can be migration of the dissolved endocrine disruptor." She added that with "the cocktail of different chemicals together, pesticides and pharmaceuticals in your body we don't understand all of the interactions."
In large part, the population is aware of the effects of bisphenol A, Hénault-Ethier underlined that while it "has been swapped for other types of bisphenols with another letter at the end, they are all to some degree endocrine disruptors."
"When it comes to particulate matter, obviously if you are ingesting matter there is a chance that you are ingesting the endocrine disruptor at the same time," Hénault-Ethier said, "the larger particles might very well enter and exit the body without being absorbed."
According to some studies there is a possibility "that smaller particles can actually cross the lining of the digestive tract, these particles could find their way into our bloodstream, and lymphatic system."
The study of microplastics and the human body is just beginning, and Hénault-Ethier said "we're lacking knowledge on the human health impacts of ingesting plastic particles." Many questions were raised by the findings in the microplastic study, "are the smaller particles absorbed in the body, to what extent, do they circulate freely, do they accumulate in the liver, what is the impact of lifelong ingestion?"
Hénault-Ethier said "we don't really know, and there are no legal limits to the amount of particles you can find in bottled water."
The World Health Organization is conducting a study in response to the findings of the bottled water study. Hénault-Ethier said that "this field of research is still in its infancy."
Hénault-Ethier suggested that "the best way to address this issue is to strongly decrease the amount of bottled water that is in circulation." She added that "it makes no sense, from an environmental, economic or social standpoint to have so many people drinking bottled water and actually thinking that this water is safer than tap water."
There are areas of the world where water treatment and sanitation are lacking, and it is not safe to drink the water, though in places such as most of Canada there is clean safe drinking water, and it is thousands of times cheaper.
The study of microplastics in tap and bottled water is just beginning, the long-term effects of ingesting these particles are, as of now, unknown. There is an opportunity here for researchers and policymakers to study this new field and determine how much microplastic in bottled water is too much.