Plastic particles found in bottled water

David Shukman BBC 15 Mar 18;

Tests on major brands of bottled water have found that nearly all of them contained tiny particles of plastic.

In the largest investigation of its kind, 250 bottles bought in nine different countries were examined.

Research led by journalism organisation Orb Media discovered an average of 10 plastic particles per litre, each larger than the width of a human hair.

Companies whose brands were tested told the BBC that their bottling plants were operated to the highest standards.

The tests were conducted at the State University of New York in Fredonia.

Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at the university, conducted the analysis and told BBC News: "We found [plastic] in bottle after bottle and brand after brand.

"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."

Currently, there is no evidence that ingesting very small pieces of plastic (microplastics) can cause harm, but understanding the potential implications is an active area of science.

Commenting on the results, Prof Mason said: "It's not catastrophic, the numbers that we're seeing, but it is concerning."

Experts have told the BBC that people in developing countries where tap water may be polluted should continue to drink water from plastic bottles.

Contacted to comment on the findings, the companies behind the brands have insisted that their products meet the highest standards for safety and quality.

They also point to the absence of any regulations on microplastics and of the lack of standardised methods of testing for them.

Last year, Prof Mason found plastic particles in samples of tap water and other researchers have spotted them in seafood, beer, sea salt and even the air.

This latest work comes amid growing international attention on plastic, fuelled by the BBC's acclaimed Blue Planet 2 series in which Sir David Attenborough highlighted the threat of plastic waste in our oceans.

The research into bottled water involved buying packs from 11 different global and national brands in countries chosen for their large populations or their relatively high consumption of bottled water. These were:

Leading international brands:

Aquafina
Dasani
Evian
Nestle Pure Life
San Pellegrino
Leading national brands included:

Aqua (Indonesia)
Bisleri (India)
Epura (Mexico)
Gerolsteiner (Germany)
Minalba (Brazil)
Wahaha (China)

To eliminate any risk of contamination, purchases in shops and deliveries to courier companies were recorded on video. Some packs in the US were ordered over the internet.

The screening for plastic involved adding a dye called Nile Red to each bottle, a technique recently developed by British scientists for the rapid detection of plastic in seawater.

Previous studies have established how the dye sticks to free-floating pieces of plastic and makes them fluoresce under certain wavelengths of light.

Prof Mason and her colleagues filtered their dyed samples and then counted every piece larger than 100 microns – roughly the diameter of a human hair.

Some of these particles – large enough to be handled individually - were then analysed by infrared spectroscopy, confirmed as plastic and further identified as particular types of polymer.

Particles smaller than 100 microns – and down to a size of 6.5 microns – were much more numerous (an average of 314 per litre) and were counted using a technique developed in astronomy for totalling the number of stars in the night sky.

The make-up of these particles was not confirmed but Prof Mason said they can "rationally expected to be plastic".

This is because although Nile Red dye can bind to substances other than plastic - such as fragments of shell or algae containing lipids - these would be unlikely to be present in bottled water.

Since the study has not been through the usual process of peer review and publication in a scientific journal, the BBC has asked experts in the field to comment.

Dr Andrew Mayes, of the University of East Anglia and one of the pioneers of the Nile Red technique, told us it was "very high quality analytical chemistry" and that the results were "quite conservative".

Michael Walker, a consultant to the Office of the UK Government Chemist and founder board member of the Food Standards Agency, said the work was "well conducted" and that the use of Nile Red has "a very good pedigree".

Both of them emphasised that the particles below 100 microns had not been identified as plastic but said that since the alternatives would not be expected in bottled water, they could be described as "probably plastic".

One obvious question is where this plastic may be coming from. Given the amount of polypropylene, which is used in bottle caps, one theory is that the act of opening a bottle may shed particles inside.

To check that the process of testing was not itself adding plastic to the bottles, Prof Mason ran "blanks" in which the purified water used to clean the glassware and the acetone used to dilute the Nile Red dye were themselves investigated.

Small quantities of plastic were found in them – believed to be from the air - but these were subtracted from the final results.

A surprise to researchers was the wide variety of findings – 17 of the 259 bottles tested showed no evidence of plastic but all of the rest did, with big differences even within brands.

A few bottles were found to have thousands of particles - the vast majority being the smaller ones that are "probably plastic" - but others from the same pack had virtually none.

We contacted the companies involved and most responded.

Nestle told us its own internal testing for microplastics began more than two years ago and had not detected any "above trace level". A spokesman added that Prof Mason’s study missed key steps to avoid "false positives" but he invited Orb Media to compare methods.

Gerolsteiner also said it had been testing its water for microplastics for a number of years and that the results showed levels "significantly below the limits for particles" set for pharmaceutical companies. It said it could not understand how Prof Mason’s study reached its conclusions.

It also said its measures exceeded industry standards but added that microparticles are "everywhere" so "the possibility of them entering the product from ambient air or packaging materials during the bottling process can therefore not be completely ruled out".

Coca-Cola said it had some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry and used a "multi-step filtration process". But it too acknowledged that microplastics "appear to be ubiquitous and therefore may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products".

Danone said it could not comment on the study because "the methodology used is unclear" but added that its own bottles had "food grade packaging".

It pointed out that there are no regulations on microplastics or a scientific consensus on how to test for them, and it also highlighted a much smaller German study last year that found plastic particles in single use bottles but not above a statistically significant amount.

PepsiCo asked the American Beverage Association to respond on its behalf.

It said the industry "stood by the safety of our bottled water" and described the science of microplastics as "nascent and an emerging field requiring continued expert analysis, peer-reviewed research and collaboration across many stakeholders".

The full Orb Media report can be found at www.OrbMedia.org


WHO launches health review after microplastics found in 90% of bottled water
Researchers find levels of plastic fibres in popular bottled water brands could be twice as high as those found in tap water
Graham Readfearn The Guardian 15 Mar 18;

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic. A previous study also found high levels of microplastics in tap water.

In the new study, analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.

In one bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics, according to the study.

Scientists based at the State University of New York in Fredonia were commissioned by journalism project Orb Media to analyse the bottled water.

The scientists wrote they had “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water” compared with their previous study of tap water, .

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water – the dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials.

The study has not been published in a journal and has not been through scientific peer review. Dr Andrew Mayes, a University of East Anglia scientist who developed the Nile red technique, told Orb Media he was “satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab”.

The brands Orb Media said it had tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

A World Health Organisation spokesman told the Guardian that although there was not yet any evidence on impacts on human health, it was aware it was an emerging area of concern. The spokesman said the WHO would “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.”

A second unrelated analysis, also just released, was commissioned by campaign group Story of Stuff and examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the US.It also found plastic microfibres were widespread.

The brand Boxed Water contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibres per litre. Ozarka and Ice Mountain, both owned by Nestlé, had concentrations at 15 and 11 pieces per litre, respectively. Fiji Water had 12 plastic fibres per litre.

Abigail Barrows, who carried out the research for Story of Stuff in her laboratory in Maine, said there were several possible routes for the plastics to be entering the bottles.

“Plastic microfibres are easily airborne. Clearly that’s occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn,” she said.

Stiv Wilson, campaign coordinator at Story of Stuff, said finding plastic contamination in bottled water was problematic “because people are paying a premium for these products”.

Jacqueline Savitz, of campaign group Oceana, said: “We know plastics are building up in marine animals and this means we too are being exposed, some of us every day. Between the microplastics in water, the toxic chemicals in plastics and the end-of-life exposure to marine animals, it’s a triple whammy.”

Nestlé criticised the methodology of the Orb Media study, claiming in a statement to CBC that the technique using Nile red dye could “generate false positives”.

Coca-Cola told the BBC it had strict filtration methods, but acknowledged the ubiquity of plastics in the environment meant plastic fibres “may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products”.

A Gerolsteiner spokesperson said the company, too, could not rule out plastics getting into bottled water from airborne sources or from packing processes. The spokesperson said concentrations of plastics in water from their own analyses were lower than those allowed in pharmaceutical products.

Danone claimed the Orb Media study used a methodology that was “unclear”. The American Beverage Association said it “stood by the safety” of its bottled water, adding that the science around microplastics was only just emerging.

The Guardian contacted Nestlé and Boxed Water for comment on the Story of Stuff study, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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