Explore the latest findings and the ongoing quest for understanding the impact of nanoplastics on human health.
New research reveals that the average one-liter water bottle contains approximately a quarter of a million plastic particles, a discovery that is up to 100 times higher than previous estimates. The groundbreaking study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), investigated five different water bottles from three popular brands (not disclosed by researchers). The study found an average of 240,000 particles from seven different types of plastic, predominantly in the form of nanoplastics.
While prior research has concentrated on well-known microplastics, which are plastic fragments smaller than 5mm and larger than 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter) in length, the current study focuses on nanoplastics.
Nano plastics, measuring less than one micron and being no wider than a human hair, are believed to be more toxic due to their smaller size, making it easier for them to enter human organs and the bloodstream.
What are experts saying?
Lead author Naixin Qian, a chemistry graduate student at Columbia University, emphasized the study’s significance as a valuable tool to address challenges in analyzing nanoplastics and bridging the existing knowledge gap on plastic pollution at the nano level. Despite these findings, research on the actual effects of nanoplastics is ongoing.
The potential dangers of nanoplastics remain uncertain. Co-author Phoebe Stapleton, a toxicologist at Rutgers, emphasized the need for further research, stating, “We don’t know if it’s dangerous or how dangerous. We do know that they are getting into the tissues (of mammals, including people) … and the current research is looking at what they’re doing in the cells.”
Sherri Mason, known for her 2018 research that initially uncovered micro- and nanoplastics in bottled water, hailed the recent findings as “remarkably significant” and “pioneering.” The 2018 study disclosed that 93% of bottled water contained an average of 325 plastic particles, mostly smaller than a human hair, per liter — 22 times more than tap water. However, during that period, nanoplastics were not yet recognized, leaving Mason and her colleagues unable to examine them.
“People don’t think of plastics as shedding, but they do,” explained Mason. “In almost the same way we’re constantly shedding skin cells, plastics are constantly shedding little bits that break off, such as when you open that plastic container for your store-bought salad or a cheese that’s wrapped in plastic.”
In response to the study, the International Bottled Water Association issued a statement highlighting the “lack of standardized methods and no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of nano- and microplastic particles.” The association expressed concerns that media reports on these particles in drinking water could needlessly alarm consumers.
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