A recent study reveals that an average one-liter (33-ounce) bottle of water contains around 240,000 plastic fragments, a significant number of which have previously gone unnoticed. This discovery suggests that concerns related to plastic pollution and its impact on health might be significantly underestimated. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is groundbreaking as it is the first to assess bottled water specifically for “nanoplastics,” which are plastic particles measuring less than 1 micrometer in length.
Unlike earlier studies that focused on microplastics (particles between 1 and 5,000 micrometers), this research found that bottled water could harbor up to 100 times more plastic particles than previously estimated. Nanoplastics, being small enough to enter human cells, bloodstream, and organs, pose a greater threat to human health than microplastics in water. They can even pass through the placenta to impact unborn babies.
To address the challenge of identifying individual nanoparticles, the study’s authors developed a new microscopy technique, employed a data-driven algorithm, and analyzed approximately 25 one-liter bottles of water from three popular US brands. They discovered between 110,000 to 370,000 tiny plastic particles in each liter, with 90% of them being nanoplastics.
Lead author Naixin Qian, a graduate student of chemistry at Columbia University, emphasizes the study’s significance in bridging the knowledge gap on plastic pollution at the nano level. Co-author Beizhan Yan, an environmental chemist at Columbia University, notes that this research unveils a previously unexplored realm and provides valuable insights into the world of nanoplastics.
The study targeted seven common plastic types, including PET (commonly used in water bottles) and polyamide. However, numerous unidentified nanoparticles were also found, potentially indicating an even higher prevalence of plastic in bottled water.
Given that the world produces over 450 million tons of plastics annually, with the majority ending up in landfills and breaking down into smaller pieces, the study underscores the global issue of plastic pollution. Bottled water, in particular, is of concern due to its potential to introduce plastic particles into the human body. The researchers plan to extend their investigation to nanoplastics in tap water and snow samples from western Antarctica, recognizing the vast realm of nanoplastics that warrants further exploration.