A new study has found that one litre of bottled water contains an average of 240,000 tiny invisible particles of plastic – 10 to 100 times more than previously estimated.
The study also said the nanoparticles can potentially penetrate human cells, and distribute harmful chemicals into the bloodstream and major organs.
In 2018, scientists discovered that a single bottle of water contained, on average, 325 nanoparticles. But this estimate has been revised upwards since and now the inclusion of nanoplastics has seen the true extent of marine plastic pollution laid bare.
In the new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal on Monday, the experts analysed five samples from three brands of bottled water in the United States.
The researchers identified ninety percent of the particles found in one litre of water as nanoplastics and the rest as microplastics.
Nanoplastics are smaller than one micrometre, or micron, which is one-millionth of a metre, or 1/25,000th of an inch. They are so tiny that they cannot be seen under a microscope.
Microplastics, on the other hand, are polymer fragments that can range from less than 5 millimeters down to 1 micrometer.
According to researchers from Columbia University, a new technology was invented – that can see, count and analyse the chemical structure of nanoparticles in bottled water.
They found that plastic particle levels ranged from 110,000 to 400,000 per litre, averaging at around 240,000 from seven types of plastics.
The authors found that the particles are less than a micron in size, adding that they come from the bottle itself.
Naixin Qian, a Ph.D. student in chemistry at Columbia and study author, said: “There are some other techniques that have identified nanoplastics before”.
“But before our study, people did not have a precise number of how many,” Qian added.
Phoebe Stapleton, study co-author and associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, said the dangers of bottled water are “currently under review”.
“We do not know if it is dangerous or how dangerous. We do know that they are getting into the tissues of mammals, including people,” she said.
“Plastic chemicals have been found in the brain, heart, liver, kidney and lungs of developing babies, 24 hours after the pregnant mother ingested or breathed in plastic particles.
“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They have been found in human lung tissues, in human feces. They have been found in human blood.”
The co-authors also said they were cutting back on their bottled water use after they conducted the study.
They hope to study tap water to see the level of pollution and to study microplastics and nanoplastics that end up in wastewater when people do laundry.
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