HEALTH WARNING: A NEW REPORT speaks of widespread contamination of many brands of bottled water by small but sometimes even visible plastic particles.
We take it as our mission to inform, not alarm, but a March 15 report warrants the attention of everyone, especially people who care about health.
A report just issued by the State University of New York Fredonia states that small but not invisible plastic particles have been found in 93% of the samples tested of bottled water sold by a large number of companies in the United States, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, and Thailand, among others.
As we write (bottled water in hand), the initial news releases are only hours old. Two consequences of that are that not all the brands have been identified, and as yet there’s been no announcement of recalls or any other unified, organized plan to deal with the revelation. Surely some will follow soon.
What scientists are saying is that if you live in a place where it’s safe to drink tap water, limit yourself to that for now.
The Washington, D.C. journalism organization Orb Media has led a study that just yielded its news-story format announcement that samples of the product from at least 11 producers of bottled water were contaminated with plastics, including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Orb Media reports some pushback by at least a couple of the bottlers. Nevertheless, it is sticking by its report based on tests it conducted at the State University of New York at Freedonia. Here’s Orb’s summary (verbatim):
“For plastic particles in the 100 micron, or 0.10 millimeter size range, tests conducted for Orb at the State University of New York revealed a global average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter. These particles were confirmed as plastic using an industry standard infrared microscope.
“The tests also showed a much greater number of even smaller particles that researchers said are also likely plastic. The global average for these particles was 314.6 per liter.”
Orb also points out that bottled water is “the fastest-growing beverage market in the world, valued at YS$147 billion per year.” The bottles examined came from the nine countries listed above.
Quoted in the BBC article, Fredonia Chemistry Professor Sherri Mason commented, "It's not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it's really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society, and it’s pervading water - all of these products that we consume at a very basic level.
“It's not catastrophic, the numbers that we're seeing, but it is concerning.”
As yet there is no hard scientific evidence that consumption of very small pieces of plastic is harmful to humans. But the possibility is under intense study in many places, and the information itself is important for the consumers of bottled waters who not unreasonably assume that the bottle water they buy is pure and health. Healthier, anyway, than tap water.
Experts the BBC consulted recommended that people living in areas where tap water is not safe for human consumption continue to purchase and drink bottled water.
When contacted by the BBC, some of the companies who sell bottled water “insisted that their products meet the highest standards for safety and quality,” in the words of the article. “They also point to the absence of any regulations on microplastics and of the lack of standardised methods of testing for them.”
The BBC further listed the specific brands tested as follows:
Leading international brands:
Leading national brands included:
The lists make no claim to being complete.
In an interview for Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted in an article in the Singapore Straits-Times, Professor Mason commented, "In this study, 65 per cent of the particles we found were actually fragments and not fibers," Mason told AFP.
"I think it is coming through the process of bottling the water. I think that most of the plastic that we are seeing is coming from the bottle itself, it is coming from the cap, it is coming from the industrial process of bottling the water."
"There are connections to increases in certain kinds of cancer to lower sperm count to increases in conditions like ADHD and autism. We know that they are connected to these synthetic chemicals in the environment and we know that plastics are providing kind of a means to get those chemicals into our bodies."
Not in the strict sense “news”
Few people who follow issues of environmental pollution will be truly shocked by this report—which in no way takes away from its importance. Those very people will have to make their own determinations about how to respond to the report.
We’ve joined the fishes, and who’s to say it’s not high time we did? There have been innumerable news stories in recent years about fish and other ocean- and river-living animal populations that have been hurt when not killed by the plastics that increasingly contaminate the world’s waters and waterways.
A single, simple response will be more difficult for those of us who live in countries where tap water is not safe for drinking. In the two I’ve lived in, Laos and Thailand, I’ve lived in sight of the rivers that supply the water, and no way is any of it going down my throat. I admit to being an extreme case, in that not only do I use bottled water exclusively for drinking and cooking, I brush my teeth with it. That's about avoiding the brackish taste of the "potable" water.
My friends in the U.S., who are to a one highly health conscious, all drink tap water--to my initial shock every time I go back to visit them. Having consumed a glass of bottled water while writing this, I suddenly, reflexively, envy them. But given the alternatives, I’ll go on drinking bottled water for now.
SUNY Fredonia Report (technical but accessible to the lay reader):