Most of us assume our drinking water is safe from impurities, at least when we use bottled water. Think again. A recent study of popular bottled water brands shows contamination with microplastics of various types.
This is not the first study showing that bottled water can have significant contaminants. A few years ago, we reported on a European study that showed bottled water can contain traces of pharmaceuticals and nicotine.
Plastic in bottled waters
The 2018 study was funded by the nonprofit Orb Media, based in Washington, D.C. and conducted at the State University of New York. The researchers tested 11 brands of bottled water. In total, 259 bottles were tested.
The bottles were purchased from 19 locations in 9 different countries.
The testing found that most of the bottled waters were contaminated with plastic particles. For the most part, these are not coming from the bottles. They included particles of:
• Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
For particle sizes of 100 microns (0.10 millimeter) or higher, the researchers found an average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter among the bottled waters. On particle sizes between 6.5 and 100 microns, an average of 325 particles per liter was found among the bottled waters.
They also found that 95 percent of the particles were in the 6.5 to 100-micron size.
Plastic particles at the 100-micron level or higher were confirmed using the Nile Red and Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometry (FTIR) tests. Nile Red testing equipment was used for the particle sizes below 100-micron levels.
Plastic by brand
The highest particles per liters found were in the Nestle Pure Life bottled water, with the lowest result of 6 and the highest result of 10,390 particles per liter. This lot of Nestle Pure Life bottled water was purchased in the U.S. at Amazon.
The best results in plastic particles per liter came in for the San Pellegrino brand, with a low result of 0 and a high result of only 74. These were also purchased on Amazon.
In terms of country, the bottled waters with higher counts were purchased around the world. There doesn’t appear to be a pattern. Waters bought in Mexico or India were sometimes better than waters bought in the U.S.
Here are the plastic particles per liter numbers by brand:
Aqua = 0 (lowest result) to 4,713 (highest result)
Aquafina = 2 (lowest) to 1,295 (highest)
Bisleri = 0 to 5,230
Dasani = 2 to 335
Epura = 0 to 2,267
Evian = 0 to 256
Gerolsteiner = 9 to 5,160
Minalba = 0 to 863
Nestle Pure Life = 6 to 10,390
San Pellegrino = 0 to 74
Wahaha = 1 to 731
How are the microplastics getting in?
One might ask how these microplastics – or microbeads as some call them – are finding their way into our bottled waters? The most likely pathway is through the municipal water supplies. Many bottled water brands simply bring in city (municipal) water and run it through a filtration process to screen out chlorine and other contaminants.
However, their filtration equipment is obviously lacking in terms of micron size. Plastic particles that are smaller than the filtration screens will make it through. This was also found in many bottled waters for pharmaceuticals and nicotine as mentioned above.
Microplastic contaminant levels are mostly unregulated around the world.
Now we are finding that microbeads are becoming so widespread in our waters that they are finding their way into our drinking waters.
According to Plastics Europe, about 300 million tons of plastics have been produced between the 1950s and 2013. At least 10 percent of that has made it into the marine environment. Today, an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in our oceans, shorelines and estuaries.
An even greater amount of plastic has come through our sewer wastewaters in the form of microbead particles. These are being dumped into rivers and groundwater basins, with sediment building up where drinking waters can also flow.
Microplastic sources include a plethora of consumer goods, including plastic trash and personal care products. However, a 2017 study from the Netherlands’ Wageningen University found that 42 percent of plastic particles come from tire wear on the roads and 29 percent comes from laundry wastewater from clothing that contains plastics such as nylon and polypropylene (some clothing also contains formaldehydes).
Other sources of plastic particles, according to the study, come from household goods (19 percent) and personal care products (10 percent).
Another 2017 study from Amsterdam’s Vrije University found that wastewater sewage plants were the significant source of microplastics. They found concentrations of between 100 and 3,600 particles per kilograms of dry sediment along the Dutch North Sea coast from wastewater flows.
Particle sizes of the microbeads ranged from 10 to 5,000 microns.
Microplastics in our salt
A 2017 study from Malaysia’s Monash University studied microplastics in salt. They tested 17 salt brands from 8 different countries.
They found that only one brand did not contain plastic particles. The other brands had between 1 and 10 microplastic particles per kilo that had a size of greater than 149 microns.
The plastic polymers were analyzed, and 40 percent were polypropylene and 33 percent were polyethylene. The rest were other types of plastics.
Are microplastics harmful?
Good studies on microplastics in human health have remained at large. However, there are a number of studies that have investigated the effects of microplastics in marine life.
For example, a 2017 study from South Korea’s Gangneung-Wonju National University found that the ingestion of plastic particles increased oxidative stress within the bodies of the copepod (Paracyclopina nana).
The microbeads of plastic produced significantly higher levels of oxidative free radicals within the bodies of the crustaceans.
A 2018 study from Portugal’s University of Porto studied European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). This is a fish eaten throughout Europe and other countries around the world.
The researchers found that microplastics caused neurotoxicity in the fish. Some of this neurotoxicity was produced by the interaction between the mercury and the microplastics. Apparently, the microplastics caused the fish to accumulate more mercury.
The researchers also discovered that microplastics increased free radical oxidative stress in the fish.
They also found that microplastics accumulated within the tissues of the fish. This is called bioaccumulation.
In addition, the microplastics interacted with the mercury in the body to inhibit acetylcholinesterase within the neurons.
How can we reduce our microplastics from water?
It is a tough call, but there are definitely some strategies that can help reduce our microplastic intake.
The first is to choose to drink bottled waters that are taken from artesian wells. The San Pellegrino well is a good example – coming from Italy.
Artesian wells are deep, encapsulated wells. The water comes to the surface through pressure from the well. These wells should decrease contact with sewage sediment because of their depth.
Even better if the well is located outside of a major city, where wastewater flows are nearby.
There are other bottled waters that come from artesian wells. In California, for example, we have some artesian wells around Lake Shasta and Lake Arrowhead. These artesian wells produce bottled waters that, in my opinion, are preferable to drinking filtered city water. They were not part of this test, but the result for the San Pelligrino brand appears to confirm this finding.
In addition, beware of bottled waters that are labeled “purified water.” Purified water is typically produced with reverse-osmosis. There are problems with reverse osmosis related to the lack of natural mineralization. You can read about this in my book on the subject, “Pure Water.”
This book discusses the various sources of water and the different types of filtration systems. It also reveals the best types of water filters to use at your home. The book also discusses how much water we should be drinking everyday, the benefits of water therapy and more. I hope you consider reading it.
Sherri A. Mason, Victoria Welch, Joseph Neratko. Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water. State University of New York at Fredonia, Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences.
Jeong CB, Kang HM, Lee MC, Kim DH, Han J, Hwang DS, Souissi S, Lee SJ, Shin KH, Park HG, Lee JS. Adverse effects of microplastics and oxidative stress-induced MAPK/Nrf2 pathway-mediated defense mechanisms in the marine copepod Paracyclopina nana. Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 24;7:41323. doi: 10.1038/srep41323.
Karami A, Golieskardi A, Keong Choo C, Larat V, Galloway TS, Salamatinia B. The presence of microplastics in commercial salts from different countries. Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 6;7:46173. doi: 10.1038/srep46173. Erratum in: Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 26;7:46838.
Leslie HA, Brandsma SH, van Velzen MJ, Vethaak AD. Microplastics en route: Field measurements in the Dutch river delta and Amsterdam canals, wastewater treatment plants, North Sea sediments and biota. Environ Int. 2017 Apr;101:133-142. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.01.018.
Siegfried M, Koelmans AA, Besseling E, Kroeze C. Export of microplastics from land to sea. A modelling approach. Water Res. 2017 Dec 15;127:249-257. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2017.10.011.
Barboza LGA, Vieira LR, Branco V, Figueiredo N, Carvalho F, Carvalho C, Guilhermino L. Microplastics cause neurotoxicity, oxidative damage and energy-related changes and interact with the bioaccumulation of mercury in the European seabass, Dicentrarchus labrax (Linnaeus, 1758). Aquat Toxicol. 2018 Feb;195:49-57. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2017.12.008.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.