Bottled water is detrimental to the wellbeing of our planet, but could it be having an impact on our personal wellbeing, too? A new study investigating the presence of microplastics in bottled water has found that 93 percent of those tested contained fluids that were indeed contaminated. So what does that mean for those consuming it? The truth is, nobody really knows.

The study was carried out by non-profit journalism organization Orb Media, together with scientists at the State University of New York in Fredonia. The researchers placed fluids from a total of 259 bottles under the microscope, purchased from 19 different locations in nine different countries. Eleven different bottled water brands were represented, including big names like Nestle Pure Life, San Pellegrino, Aquafina, Evian and Dasani.

For larger microplastic particles, the team found an average of 10.4 particles per liter (0.26 gal) larger than 100 microns in size. But when it came to smaller particles measuring between 6.5 and 100 microns, the researchers found an average of 325 particles per liter. One single bottle alone was found to contain more than 10,000 microplastic particles per liter. This is double the amount of microplastic found in a previous study on tap water, according to the researchers.

There are a couple of things worth noting about the study. One is that it hasn't been peer reviewed, and the other is that while all particles were detected using an imaging technique known as the Nile Red method, only the detection of the larger particles could be confirmed via spectroscopy. In any case, the developer of the Nile Red method had this to say.

"This is pretty substantial," explained Andrew Mayes, who is senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of East Anglia. "I've looked in some detail at the finer points of the way the work was done, and I'm satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab."

The Nile Red method is gaining credibility as a reliable way to tag plastic particles in water samples. It involves deploying a fluorescent dye into the sample that then binds to plastic particles, illuminating them under a fluorescent microscope and enabling researchers to tally up the contamination. It is possible the smaller glowing particles that couldn't be confirmed by spectroscopy could be false positives, perhaps a natural material also stained by the dye, though Mayes says these could still be called "probable microplastic."

It is difficult to tell what, if any, impact the ingestion of microplastics can have on our health, with our current understanding of the reactions between its chemicals and the human body very limited. But the research does bring to light how prevalent plastic waste is becoming – millions of metric tons enter the ocean every year alone.

"What does it mean if we have this large amount of microplastic bits in food?" says Jane Muncke, chief scientist at the Zurich-based research organization Food Packaging Forum. "Is there some kind of interaction in the gastrointestinal tract with these microparticles ... which then could potentially lead to chemicals being taken up, getting into the human body? We don't have actual experimental data to confirm that assumption. We don't know all the chemicals in plastics, even ... There's so many unknowns here. That, combined with the highly likely population-wide exposure to this stuff — that's probably the biggest story here. I think it's something to be concerned about."

In response to the study, the World Health Organization WHO has today announced a review into the potential health risks of plastic water bottles. According to The Guardian, this will involve first reviewing the limited evidence that is available, identifying gaps in the research and then developing a research strategy to fill those gaps.

The full report from Orb Media and the State University of New York in Fredonia is available online.

Source: Orb Media