Microplastics in Bottled Water | Surprising Water Problem

Microplastic Contamination in Bottled Water

Are you worried about microplastics in your bottled water? It’s widely reported in the news and many university studies.

You’re not alone. A new study has found that 11 of the world’s best-selling brands of bottled water have been contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic. These plastics are known as microplastics and they come from a variety of sources, including synthetic clothing fibers, tire dust, and industrial waste.

The World Health Organization says there’s no evidence yet that these bits of plastic pose any threat to human health when consumed at low levels over long time periods…but we don’t know enough about them yet to say for sure either way! That’s why it’s important for us all to take action now by choosing our drinking water carefully – especially if we plan on giving it to children or pregnant women.

Continue reading to learn more about microplastic contamination in bottled water.

Check out my articles on the 9 types of bottled water and contaminants in bottled water.

What Are Microplastics

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic under five millimeters (mm) in size. They’re typically created when larger plastic items like water bottles, bags and fishing nets break down over time – essentially becoming “micro-sized” versions of the original item. They also come from small plastic particles such as microbeads that are added to consumer products like toothpaste and facial scrubs. Microbeads have been widely used in exfoliating products for years – from toothpaste to face wash. They’re now being banned as part of the recent microplastics contamination reports that were published worldwide.

Submicron particles of PVC
Scanning electron microscope image of microplastic particles.

Microfibers are another source of plastic pollution entering our bodies via food consumption and drinking water. Microfibers are small fibers that shed from synthetic clothing, like polyester and nylon. About one-third of microplastics in the ocean come directly or indirectly from the clothes we wash off into sewage systems every day.

Microplastics can be ingested by a variety of creatures, from zooplankton and fish all the way up to marine mammals and humans. Ingestion can cause health problems in marine organisms like intestinal blockages, reduced food intake and weight loss, organ damage, and even death.

To give you a sense of how small microplastics are, a human hair is 0.1 mm in diameter, which is 100 microns (µ). A typical microplastic contaminant has a diameter between 0.005 and five millimeters (mm) – so it’s about one to ten times thinner than your own eyelashes! Smaller particles are likely to exist, too.

Microplastics in Bottled Water – Study Results

Red Nile Test Measures microplastics in water
SUNY used Red Nile dye to identify microplastic particles in bottled water samples.

Because they’re so small, it’s hard to tell how many microplastics are floating around us at any given time. But a new study has found that 11 of the world’s best-selling brands of bottled water have been contaminated with tiny bits of plastic – raising health concerns for people who drink them!

The State University of New York in Fredonia (SUNY) tested bottled water from 11 different brands. They collected the bottles from different vendors in 9 different countries to ensure representative samples were tested. They also tested several bottles of water from each bottler to provide enough data for statistical analysis.

The SUNY study used an innovative method to measure the amount of microplastics in the bottled water. They used a red dye named Nile Red to identify the plastic particles floating in the water. Nile Red dye is known to stain plastics, and it fluoresces when exposed to blue green light. This technique made it possible to use software to count the particles in each water sample.

Study findings

Microplastics were discovered in 93 percent of the 250 bottles tested, with an average of 325 particles per liter of water. This news has been widely reported in recent years.

Seventeen out of the 259 bottles tested had no microplastic contamination. Brands with no microplastic included Aqua, Bisleri, E-Pura, Evian, Minalba, and San Pellegrino.

How much plastic particles are in our water?

Water bottles from Gerolsteiner and Nestle Pure Life had the highest average concentrations of microplastics at 930 MPP/L and 807 MPP/L.

On the other extreme, Minalba and San Pellegrino had the lowest concentrations of microplastic contamination at 63.1 MPP/L and 30.0 MPP/L, respectively (crossref full).

SUNY microplastics in bottled water study Infographic

Which brands of bottled water contain microplastics (mps)

The following international brands of bottled water were tested for microplastic particles in the SUNY study:

  • Aquafina
  • Dasani
  • Evian
  • Nestle Pure Life
  • San Pellegrino

SUNY also tested these popular bottled water brands:

  • Aqua (Indonesia)
  • Bisleri (India)
  • Epura (Mexico)
  • Gerolsteiner (Germany)
  • Minalba (Brazil)
  • Wahaha (China)

Every brand had some level of microplastics contamination in their bottled water. A few brands had some bottles with no detected contaminants out of the batch tested.

Read my article about bottled water brands that use RO treatment.

How Do Microplastics Get into Bottled Water

Microplastics are virtually everywhere. They are in our air, tap water and soil. Despite this fact, we don’t expect to find them in bottled water, especially since these products are advertised to be “pure” and “clean”. Some bottled waters are even filtered to improve their quality.

With all of this, how do microplastics end up in our bottled water?

Microplastics come from the water source

Bottled water is sourced from springs, rivers, groundwater wells, and even the water from your tap. Studies have documented the presence of small pieces of plastic debris less than five millimeters in municipal water supplies, lakes, rivers, and streams.

Virtually every potential source of water used in bottles may contain levels of microplastics pollution. It is likely that the “clean” water used to fill the bottles contains some amount of microplastics.

Microplastics from the bottling process

Plastics can be introduced into bottled water during the extrusion process when the bottles are made, during the filling process, from contamination in the bottling plant’s air, and even from the opening and closing of the bottle cap.

There may be other ways that microplastic contamination enters our drinking water supply too: studies have shown they can be airborne. This means that water that is filtered can become contaminated by microplastics floating around in the air of the bottling plant.

What Can You Do to Avoid Drinking Microplastics?

Since every brand of bottled water tested contained some level of microplastics, what can you do to avoid drinking contaminated water?

  1. Use your own water bottle. Fill a metal or glass bottle using your own tap water. Test it to be sure it doesn’t contain microplastics – many public water supplies contain them.
  2. Purify your own water. If your water contains microplastics, treat it with reverse osmosis filtration. RO is very effective at removing microplastics from drinking water. You can install a filter at your tap or the point of use.
  3. Limit your bottled water consumption. This method doesn’t completely eliminate microplastics, but it reduces the amount you consume.

Pitcher filters are moderately effective at filtering microplastics

If you have a pitcher filter, you may be wondering if it can remove microplastics from your drinking water. Brita pitchers remove most of the microplastics from water. Similarly, PUR filters can remove a significant amount of microplastics.

As awareness of the dangers of microplastics increases, more people are looking for ways to avoid them. Bottled water is not the only source of these pollutants, but it is something that we can control. By using our own bottles and purifying our own water, we can greatly reduce our exposure to microplastics at work and in our homes.

Harm in Consuming Microplastics

There is currently no evidence that microplastics can be harmful when consumed in moderate amounts, but the topic is a hot area of research.

While the health effects of microplastics on humans are still being studied, there are several papers that indicate they can cause harm in a variety of ways. For example, they’ve been shown to absorb toxic chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals and flame retardants, which can then be released into the body when consumed.

Microplastics are suspected to have carcinogenic properties, meaning they potentially cause cancer. However, this has not been proven and it is a much-debated topic in the scientific community.

The EPA should conduct a review into the potential risks of plastic in our water and food. Every home owner should be concerned about this contaminant.

World Health Organization statement

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there’s not enough evidence to conclude that microplastics pose any risk, but they caution more research needs doing before drawing firm conclusions. A new study finds these small pieces of plastic are “ubiquitous” and have been detected in fresh water and wastewater treatment plants across Europe.

EPA opinion on microplastics

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), microplastics are an emerging contaminant that may pose risks to human health and the environment. There is currently no standard method for characterizing or quantifying them in environmental matrices, but there is a critical need because of their potential impacts to health.

Final Take on Microplastics in Bottled Water

Drinking bottled water may be exposing you to microplastic contamination, according to a new study. Researchers have found evidence of microplastics in large numbers of bottles from the U.S., Europe and China that are sold by 11 different brands.

This can be concerning because while it is not yet known what health risks there are for consuming these tiny plastics, they do contain chemicals like polypropylene or nylon which could leach out over time into the water inside the bottle. If this has made you rethink your consumption habits or if you want more information about how this affects other packaged foods, you’re in good company.

Boch Richard

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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