Your bottled water may contain hundreds of little pieces of plastic

PITTSBURGH — New research that shows the bottled water labeled "clean" and "pure" that you are buying from grocery stores actually has hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic in it. A world health group is now studying what that could mean.

The research started after a group at the State University of New York at Fredonia found microplastics in tap water. Bottled water is bottled tap water, so the researchers wanted to find out if there is just as much plastic in bottled water. They discovered there is more.

Americans drink about 50 billion bottles of water a year. Researchers took a look at 259 bottles from 11 brands of water and found microplastics in 93 percent of them.

"Microplastics are just really any piece of plastic that is smaller than 1 millimeter in size," said SUNY Fredonia professor and researcher Sherri Mason. "So, think of a period at the end of the sentence or a grain of salt or a grain of sand."

The team found twice as much plastic in bottled water as it had in tap water.

A bottle of Evian water had up to 256 pieces of plastic. Dasani had as many as 300 pieces. Aquafina had nearly 1,300 pieces of plastic and one bottle of Nestle Pure Life had more than 10,000 pieces.

"On average, within every liter of bottled water, we tested we found 325 pieces of microplastic," Mason said.

The World Health Organization responded quickly to the research. It immediately launched an investigation into the health risks of these microplastics.

Channel 11 went to Pittsburgh Poison Control to see what local health experts thought of the find.

"I couldn't say that we can prove that it is harmful, but we certainly can't prove that it isn't, either," said toxicologist Michael Lynch.

Lynch told us the effects depend on the amount of plastic you're ingesting. He thinks it is unlikely such small pieces could cause health problems, but it is too soon to tell.

"I think, really, that's what this comes down to is just knowledge and understanding and allowing people to make their decisions," Lynch said.

Researchers said the plastic found in tap water is a kind of plastic believed to come from the air. The plastic found in the bottled water is the same kind used to make the bottle and cap.

"What it is telling me is that the plastic is getting into the water through the actual industrial process of bottling the water," Mason said.

Pepsi, the maker of Aquafina, did not comment on the research.

Coca-Cola, the maker of Dasani, said in part:

"We have some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry, and the water we use in our drinks is subject to multi-step filtration processes prior to production.

You can read Coca-Cola's full statement HERE.

Nestle claimed its water testing is more advanced than the testing used by the researchers and said it has equipment that removes any contaminants.

Mason said she didn't do the research to expose particular brands of bottled water. She wanted to prove how common it has become these days to have plastic in the things we drink and eat.

The non-peer reviewed study released by Orb Media is not based on sound science, and there is no scientific consensus on testing methodology or the potential health impacts of microplastic particles. Therefore, this study’s findings do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.  

Scientific experts in the field told the BBC News, “The particles below 100 microns had not been identified as plastic” [emphasis added] and that “since the alternatives would not be expected in bottled water, they could be described as probably plastic" [emphasis added]. Those not-identified substances made up the vast majority of particles counted. The study even acknowledged that the make-up of those particles was not confirmed but could "rationally expected to be plastic.”

The study’s “probably plastic” findings are weak at best and reporting it as news is alarmist and not responsible journalism.

Microplastic particles are found everywhere – soil, air, and water. And, as the report states, currently there is no evidence that microplastics can cause harm to consumers.

Orb Media is not an objective news outlet. In the past, Orb Media has shown itself to be an organization that has preconceived positions on issues and produces studies that support its point of view. 

Consumers can remain confident that bottled water products, like all food and beverages, are strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, thus, are safe for consumption. The bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products.

Provided below are additional points, in more detail on this study: 

  • The Orb Media-sponsored research focuses solely on bottled water products. However, it is important to note that thousands of other food and beverage products also use plastic containers and, perhaps even more important, that microplastic particles are found in all aspects of our environment – soil, air and water.
  • To date, there is no applicable regulatory framework or scientific consensus with respect to the adequate testing methodology or potential impacts of microplastic particles, which could be found in any bottling environment. 
  • There is no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of microplastic particles. The data on the topic is limited and conclusions differ dramatically from one study to another.
  • However, a recent scientific study published in the peer-reviewed journal Water Research in February 2018 concluded that no statistically relevant amount of microplastic can be found in water in single-use plastic bottles. (Analysis of microplastics in water by micro-Raman spectroscopy: Release of plastic particles from different packaging into mineral water by Schymanski et al.) 
  • Orb Media’s position on microplastics seems to be based on the faulty premise that if this substance is found in a bottled water product that it presents a health concern, even if no regulatory standard has been established. Because there is no scientific consensus about the potential health impacts of microplastic particles, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not issued any regulations concerning these substances in foods and beverages. Any regulatory action concerning microplastic particles would need to be based on sound science, including demonstrating a correlation between the levels of this substance found in foods and beverages and any potential adverse health effects. 
  • Despite the claims about microplastics by Orb Media, consumers can remain confident in the safety and quality of their bottled water products. Bottled water, as a packaged food product, is strictly and comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All bottled water products are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • As always, the bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products and we are following any scientific developments on this subject closely."