The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced of an official review of the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a recent study found tiny pieces of plastic contaminating more than 90% of the world’s most popular bottled water brands.
The analysis conducted by the State University of New York looked into more than 259 bottles of water from 11 brands across nine countries. An average of 325 plastic particles was found for every liter of water being sold. One bottle of Nestlé Pure Life had concentrations as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per liter of water.
Only 17 out of the 259 bottles tested were free of plastics.
Not only is this alarming statistic not known by the general population, but could possibly pose a serious threat to all water bottle consumers' health.
According to the Guardian, a World Health Organization spokesman has said that although there is not yet any clear evidence on human health impacts, microplastics are an emerging area of concern. The spokesman said the WHO would “review the very scarce, available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment.”
This unknown and quickly emerging concern is not only occurring within the plastic bottle sector. A second analysis by the campaign group, Story of Stuff, examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the United States, and found that even the supposedly "plastic free" brand, Boxed Water, contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibers per liter.
Source: Forbes, Study Finds Microplastics In 93% Of Bottled Water
Abigail Barrows, a researcher for Story in Stuff, said there were several routes for plastics to enter the bottles. “Plastic microfibers are easily airborne. Clearly that’s occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn,” she said.
Nestlé has publicly criticized the methodology of the Orb Media study, stating that Nile red dye could “generate false positives.” On the other hand, Coca-Cola has acknowledged that the inevitable ubiquity of plastics in the environment and supports that you can find plastic fibers “at minute levels even in highly treated products."
Despite these public statements by two major companies, it is important to note that although the adverse consequences of these microplastics is still widely unknown, we as consumers must understand the looming and very likely health risks.
Concerns about ingesting microplastics come from their ability to accumulate high concentrations of pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Even more troubling, these pollutants can be easily absorbed into gut tissue- as reported in a study from the European Food Safety Authority Journal.
Therefore, the WHO has announced that they will launch a review into microplastics and their impact on public health as a result of the alarming findings in this most recent study. But for now, information on microplastics in drinking water is “very limited”, with no information suggesting its danger to people.
Until the WHO releases its definitive report on microplastic impact to human health, the only way to avoid ingesting high concentrations of microplastics is to steer away from bottled water. Carrying reusable water bottles, refilling from filtered tap water, and limiting plastic usage should be integrated more into our daily lives- not only for the obvious positives for the environment, but for the sake of our own health.
Graham Readfearn. WHO launches health review after microplastics found in 90% of bottled water. March 14, 2018. The Guardian.
Niall McCarthy. Study Find Microplastics In 93% Of Bottled Water [Infographic]. March 16, 2018. Forbes.
Mindy Weisberger. Should You Worry About Microplastics in Bottled Water. March 15, 2018. Live Science.