Not As Clean As You Think: Microplastics Found in Bottled Water

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March 30, 2018

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is, we drink water more than anything else today; we look to nature to quench our thirst over carbonated beverages. The health benefits of ditching sugary drinks for water are endless; doing so can have an amazing impact on your weight, blood sugar and energy levels. Here’s the bad news: we’re getting our water from plastic bottles. Americans bought 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water in 2016 — that’s a lot of plastic! We already know it’s bad for the environment, but now we’re finding out some bottled water isn’t as clean as we thought.

You’re drinking microplastics

Scary, isn’t it? A recent global study by Orb Media found microplastics in 93 percent of the bottled water it tested. Imagine that; in your bottle of water, there could be tiny pieces of plastic floating around. The study examined 11 different brands including Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner. Researchers found 10.4 particles of plastic per litre that were 100 microns or bigger. The number of microplastics found varied from bottle to bottle; while some contained only one, others had thousands. You just never know what you’re getting.

How the microplastics are making it into the water is still unclear. Is it the water itself, or is it the bottling process? Maybe it’s the act of twisting the plastic cap off that dumps the debris into the water. We may not ever know because there are actually no rules against microplastics in bottled water. There are no guidelines as to what the allowable limit should be, and that holds true in the United States, Canada and all of Europe.

What’s it doing to you?

You’re probably wondering what microplastics are doing to your body. That’s a good question; experts still don’t know how they affect humans because they’ve only tested the impact on animals. The Marine Debris Program of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there are five trillion microplastics floating around in our oceans. Fish, oysters, and sea turtles mistake them for food, and research has found the chemicals they swallow can cause hormonal imbalances, reproductive problems and lead to liver damage. If it can cause so many problems in marine life, why wouldn’t it have the same effect on us?

According to CBC News, the European food safety authority says humans will expel most of the microplastics they consume. But the United Nations food and agriculture organization worries some particles are so small they might be able to pass into your bloodstream and organs. More research is desperately needed. We must know the answer to this question.

It’s worth noting that both Nestle and Gerolsteiner have responded to the findings, admitting that they too have found microplastics in their water bottles, but significantly less than the amount recorded by the study. The American Beverage Association says the science of microplastics is an emerging one, and that it still stands behind the safety of bottled water. But there seem to be so many unknowns out there when it comes to microplastics. Maybe while more research is being done, we should use this study as a wake-up call. Let’s protect our health and the environment by reducing our consumption of water from plastic bottles.

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Plastic Bottles

Just last week, McGill University in Montreal announced its phasing out plastic bottles. 85,000 single-use water bottles are sold every year on McGill’s campus, and thousands more are given out at special events. By spring 2019, bottled water won’t be available for purchase in any of the school’s vending machines or restaurants. Seattle University, the University of Wisconsin, and multiple other campuses have issued similar bans in the past.

And let’s give it up for San Francisco; it’s the first major U.S. city to implement a ban on bottled water. The rule, of course, only applies to city property, meaning you won’t be able to find plastic water bottles at any government offices or city-run events.

There are so many cool ideas out there for reducing our waste and keeping water bottles out of landfills and the world’s oceans. In 2010 alone, 8.8 million tons of plastic found its way into the sea. Initiatives like the ones mentioned above can have a positive impact on the environment, but as an extra bonus, also reduce our exposure to the microplastics apparently floating around in the bottles.

To stress, or not to stress?

Maybe we’re jumping to conclusions where ingesting microplastics is concerned. The director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center says we need to relax. David L. Katz tells Eating Well magazine that while microplastics are constantly finding their way into our lives, eating healthy, whole foods can minimize the bad chemicals we take-in. So, if we live by that rule (and I’m not saying it’s a bad one), drinking water is so good for you, perhaps it can outweigh any possible negative side effects microplastics might have.

I’m not willing to take the risk. It’s time we make some changes, don’t you think?

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine has a degree in journalism and political science from Concordia University in Montreal. She worked in radio and television as a reporter and news anchor for ten years before starting a family. Now, she's living a quiet country life raising her two young kids with her husband and is loving every second of it. Her interests include healthy eating, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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