Scientists found almost 250,000 tiny nanoplastic particles in a liter of bottled water, using a special microscope with dual lasers for the first time. The researchers at Columbia and Rutgers universities discovered these microscopic plastic pieces in five samples each of three common bottled water brands. The particle levels ranged from 110,000 to 400,000 per liter, with an average of around 240,000, as reported in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Nanoplastics are less than a micron in size, which is much smaller than previous studies on slightly larger microplastics. The study found 10 to 100 times more nanoplastics than microplastics in bottled water. The plastic seems to come from the bottles themselves and the reverse osmosis membrane filter used to keep out contaminants.
The researchers are uncertain about the health effects of these nanoplastic particles, and further studies are needed to determine if they are harmful. The International Bottled Water Association and the American Chemistry Council emphasized the lack of standardized measuring methods and scientific consensus on the health impacts of nano- and microplastic particles.
Plastic pollution is a significant global issue, with more than 430 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, leading to microplastics in oceans, food, and drinking water. The United Nations Environment Programme notes efforts for a global plastics treaty, which has faced challenges in recent talks. The study’s co-authors have reduced their bottled water use after conducting the research, recognizing the impact of plastics on the environment and potential health concerns.
While the danger of plastics is still uncertain, experts express concern about additives in plastics, as nanoparticles can be internalized into cells, potentially causing cell stress, DNA damage, and changes in metabolism or cell function. The study introduces a new tool for detecting nanoplastics, and experts recommend further research to replicate the technique and results.