Washington-based Orb Media, a non-profit journalism group investigating on global environmental issues, released recent findings that almost all of 250 drinking water bottles tested from 11 popular brands available in 19 locations, nine countries and 5 continents contained microscopic plastic particles.
In every liter of water tested, about 325 microplastic particles were found including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is a unique plastic polyester used in bottles, jars and containers among others. Plastic water bottles can take 450 years to fully decompose in the environment.
Microplastics, according to U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are small plastic particles, less than 5 mm in diameter or size of short rice grain, with various origins in the environment such as larger plastic debris reduced into smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastics, are minute pieces of polyethylene plastic added as exfoliants to health and beauty products.
Microplastics are classified into primary and secondary and are found in high levels in the environment. The primary microplastics are those which are manufactured as human material and products such as facial scrubs. While secondary microplastics are plastic fragments derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris both on land and at sea. Both types are recognized to persist in the environment at high levels, particularly in aquatic and marine ecosystems. The smallest microplastics detected in the ocean is 1.6 micrometer.
The Scientific Findings
In the world besieged with issues on health safety, bottled water represents clean, pure, and convenient water. However, this impression is now put into question with the result of the scientific study.
Scientists from State University of New York determined that a single water bottle can contain up to thousands of microplastic particles that are invisible to the naked eye. The testing process involved injecting dye to each water bottle produced by Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestle Pure Life, and San Pellegrino. Nile red is also known as Nile blue oxazone, a lipophilic stain (dye) popularly used in cell biology.
According to Scientific Reports Journal published in October 2016, Nile red adheres to plastic and fluoresces through an orange filter when viewed under a blue-green wavelength. This process made microscopic plastic particles glow like tiny hot coals. As such, these became visible and aided the research team to separate and distinguish sediments from plastic particles in sample water filtered to 0.00015 mm.
Based on molecular analysis made, plastic elements found in samples ranging from 6.5-100 micrometer akin to the size of human red blood cells have global average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter. While many smaller particles were seen and confirmed as plastic using infrared microscope with a global average 314.6 per liter.
Also Galaxy Count, the same software technology used to count galaxies in outer space, was utilized to account so many particles smaller than 100 microns or the width of a human hair, which cannot be identified individually. Some bottles contained thousands of microplastic elements and only a handful of bottles are pure without plastic pollutants.
The study indicated that bigger particles were detected in both plastic and glass bottles.
Orb Media will distribute the results of the study through media partners in UK, Canada, Spain, Finland, Bangladesh, Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Indonesia and India.
WHO on Water Bottle
Bottled water has a worldwide market of US$147 billion per annum and is tagged as pure beverage with fastest growing market today.
More than 2 billion people on the planet lack access to safe tap water. WHO statistics also showed that some 4,000 children die everyday from water-borne diseases. Thus, bottled water is a matter of life and death. Humans need to stay hydrated and healthy and will require about two liters of fluids per day in their system and more in hot and dry areas.
However, the study also meant that a person who drinks a liter of bottled water each day could probably ingest tens of thousands of microplastic particles in a year.
Although no fool-proof evidence exists at the moment that shows ingesting these microplastic particles have detrimental effect on health, World Health Organization (WHO) is starting to ask the question whether a lifetime of eating or drinking of particles of plastic could have an effect. The health risks are not known and would probably depend on how many particles are ingested and how long these persist in the human guts. After the findings were released, WHO is poised to “review” the impact of microplastics on public health.
WHO Representative Fadéla Chaib explained that “for WHO to make an informed risk assessment, we would need to establish that microplastics occur in water at concentrations that would be harmful to human health."
She added that availability of information on microplastics in drinking water is "very limited" and there’s not enough information suggesting that its presence is dangerous to people.
"WHO's priority remains promoting access to safe water for 2 billion people who currently use and drink contaminated water," Chaib said.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼=Kay Yeban 기자]