A liter of bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of micro- and nano-particles of plastic. This is evidenced by a new study conducted by Columbia University in New York, which was published by the newspaper “De Standaard” on Tuesday. This is the first time that researchers have also found nanoparticles in bottled water.
The researchers analyzed two bottles of water from three American brands for the presence of small plastic particles. Using a highly detailed form of visualization and an automated comparison method, they were able to identify plastic particles as small as a few nanometers in number, a million times smaller than a millimeter.
The researchers found between 130,000 and 240,000 plastic particles per liter of water. The vast majority, 90%, of those particles are nanoparticles. But the researchers say that only 10% of the particles found could be identified as one of the seven types of plastic examined. Therefore, researchers take into account that there may be up to a million plastic particles in a liter of water.
“Technical tour de force”
“This research is a technical tour de force, and not every researcher can identify nanoplastics,” says Professor of Environment and Health Peter Hoyt (University of Leuven). “Although there is a certain degree of uncertainty in the measurements, for example, the number of samples examined is limited, this is surprising. There are a lot of plastic particles in the water bottles examined, much more than previous studies found.”
Among the types of plastic, scientists have found, for example, PET and PE particles, which is the material from which bottles are made. These particles may therefore come from the bottles themselves, but other types of plastic particles such as PVC and polyamide, which are not used in bottles, have also been found. These particles may have entered the water during the production process, or were already present at the source. Polyamide, known as nylon, for example, is used in filters to purify water, so it could also come from there.
Professor Hoyt says it is difficult to determine whether particles are harmful to health. The researchers point out that nanoparticles can penetrate the “biological barrier” and enter cells, something plastic particles cannot do. “Anything that shouldn't be in water or other food shouldn't be in it as a precaution, but we still know too little about microparticles and plastics to draw conclusions about our health,” Hoyt says.
The research mainly indicates that microplastics can be found anywhere, concludes the professor at KU Leuven. “At the same time, it shows that more research is needed so that we can make comparisons, for example, with water extracted from bottles, tap water and water from natural sources, which does not involve an industrial process.”
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