Bottled water may not be as pure as you think, researchers find


Experts say these nanoplastics can find their way into your cells, blood, and brain

A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University explored the prevalence of nanoplastics, which are the byproduct of pieces of plastic breaking down, found in bottled water. 

Nanoplastics are even smaller than microplastics, and researchers are concerned about them because they’re small enough to enter into the bloodstream. Despite their pervasive nature, it remains unclear how they can affect human health. 

“Previously, this was just a dark area, uncharted,” said researcher Beizhan Yan. “Toxicity studies were just guessing at what’s in there. This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before.” 

Now, based on this study, the researchers learned that some of the most popular bottled water brands contain hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics.

What’s in your bottled water?

To get a better idea of what consumers are ingesting when they open bottled water, the researchers utilized a technique developed by one of Columbia’s biophysicists, Wei Min, called stimulated Raman scattering microscopy. This technology uses lasers to identify specific molecules in the water samples. 

The researchers were looking for seven types of nanoplastics, and they tested the technology on three popular U.S. bottled water brands. 

Ultimately, the results showed that bottled water was full of nanoplastics. There were up to 370,000 particles in each liter of water tested, and 90% of them were nanoplastics. This amount was 10 to 100 times greater than the researchers’ estimates before the study. 

The researchers discovered that polyamide, which is in the nylon family, was the most prevalent in the water samples. They explained that this is typically used to filter the water during the bottling process. 

While they were also able to identify a few other types of plastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make water bottles, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and polymethyl methacrylate – much remains unknown. These identifiable plastics made up just 10% of the nanoplastics that were traced in the bottled water samples, leaving 90% still unidentified. 

What is the effect on health?

The researchers explained that nanoplastics pose risks to our health because they’re so small. They wrote, “Nanoplastics are believed to be more toxic since their smaller size renders them much more amenable, compared to microplastics, to enter the human body.” 

The researchers also noted that particles become more toxic as they get smaller, making them more dangerous to the human body on a cellular level. Studies on animals have shown nanoplastics can affect everything from reproductive health, gut health, immune responses, and more. 

More work continues to be done on the effects of nanoplastics in the human body. 

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