You’re likely gulping a mouthful of microplastics if you drink bottled water, new study reveals

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
March 27, 2018, 8:29:47 AM EDT

When it comes to choosing bottled over tap, most people opt for packaged water with the expectation that they’re consuming a purer version of the body’s most essential nutrient.

However, a new study from nonprofit journalism organization Orb Media and State University of New York at Fredonia researchers found that drinking from a plastic water bottle likely means sipping microplastic particles with just about every mouthful.

More than 250 water bottles were tested from 11 brands in nine countries, and results indicated that more than 90 percent of samples were contaminated with microplastic.

Tests, which confirmed the presence of plastic using an industry-standard infrared microscope, revealed plastic contaminants including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), nylon and polypropylene.

Man and woman drinking bottled water - Pixabay image

According to the study, testing found a global average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter for plastic particles in the 0.10-millimeter size range.

Researchers say that tests also showed a larger number of even smaller pieces that they also believe to be plastic. The study’s data suggests that the contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging, the bottling process or perhaps both.

“The work Orb does is amazing because they try to connect the dots between planetary health, human health and how the water that we drink affects us,” said Anders Jacobson, chief executive officer and president of global water purification brand Bluewater.

“This is a big, big journey, because the awareness among consumers about water quality is very low,” Jacobson said.

Bluewater recently released its own survey, which showed that 56 percent of Americans worry that their drinking water contains harmful contaminants including plastic, carcinogens and lead.

The survey also found that nearly 70 percent of Americans rely on bottled water in some capacity, with nearly 33 percent of them gulping down more than five bottles of water per week.

Around the world, packaged water is the main source for many of the 2.1 billion people who don't have access to safe and drinkable tap water, according to Orb Media and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Bottled-water drinkers seeking to avoid potentially contaminated tap water might have the right idea.

Last year, Orb Media released a study which found that virtually all of the world’s tap water is contaminated by microplastic fibers. It found that 94 percent of all tap water samples in the United States were tainted with plastic, including water in places like the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, Time Magazine reported.

However, Orb Media’s latest findings in plastic water bottles may have many people wondering – is any fresh water safe to drink?

Infographic - Plastic health impacts

Microplastic and your health: Why you should worry

According to Orb, these findings suggest that anyone who downs a liter of bottled water daily could potentially be consuming tens of thousands of microplastics annually.

“There's plastic in our water, soda, beer, honey and seafood,” said Kathryn Kellogg, the consultant and public speaker behind the Going Zero Waste blog.

“These microplastic pieces eventually find their way into the food chain or through the water table, and they’re so small, they’re impossible to filter out,” Kellogg explained.

Microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to serious illnesses, including cancer, according to Orb Media.

“When fish eat it, not only are the chemicals of the plastic leaching throughout their blood stream, they're also being affected by all of the toxins, too,” Kellogg said. “This is transferred up the food chain to our plates.”

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“It never goes away; every single thing that’s made out of plastic still exists,” said Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers. “It’s causing havoc with our reproductive systems [as well as causing] cancer; there’s not any question that plastic in your body is bad for you.”

There are currently very few studies surrounding the effects of plastics on human health, according to Jacobson, as plastic in general is still a new phenomenon.

Orb Media’s latest study has prompted the WHO to review the potential risks of drinking plastic-contaminated water, the Guardian reported.

The organization intends to “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,” according to a WHO spokesperson.

“[Based on Orb Media’s recent studies], the absolute majority of all water that we as consumers drink contains microplastics and also other contaminants,” Jacobson said.

“We have to find ways to consume water in a sustainable way that takes both human and planetary health into consideration,” he said.

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