back to article Cutting-edge microscopy reveals bottled water has 'up to 100 times' more bits of plastic than previously feared

The average store-bought bottle of water contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 times more minute plastic particles than previously believed, judging from a study published this week. We've long known about the presence of microplastic particles in bottled water and proliferating through nature, while nanoplastics …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I avoid buying water in plastic bottles

    Glass please. It's easy to wash, and can be recycled.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I avoid buying water in plastic bottles

      I also avoid water in plastic bottles, I drink filtered tap water.

      The issue is though, that as per the article, a large part of the microplastics found isn't coming from the bottle itself. Bottled water in a glass container (and tap water too for that matter) is sourced from a spring / underground aquefier and filtered, or derived from reverse osmosis. Either way there are plastics involved in the processing machinery. I wouldn't be surprised if plastics are being picked up from the pipes that deliver tap water.

      However since I don't have a private pristine brook of snow-melt water in an unpolluted corner on the slopes of Mount Inaccessible, I'll just have to make do with avoiding plastic bottles.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mount Inaccessible

        Of course if you do get to Mount "Inaccessible", you'll need a colander to strain out the bear turds, and iodine tablets to kill off the giardia...

        The article does illustrate the perils of analytical technology: the harder you look, the more dirt you find. The relevant question is whether that dirt is a problem. I think there are large areas of the world where people would happily take a bit of microplastic instead of chlamidia, bilharzia, cholera or other nasties in an untreated supply.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Mount Inaccessible

          Also, do I prefer my water delivered through plastic pipes (or plastic bottles) containing microplastics, or through lead[0] pipes as in days of yore? (I don't buy bottled water and I don't filter what comes out of the tap. My landlord thinks I'm crazy but last time I checked I wasn't dead yet.)

          [0] Other metals are available, e.g. copper or iron, but I think lead is the least friendly.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Mount Inaccessible

            What comes out of the tap is supposed to be drinkable anyway.

            But until I was nearly 14 we lived in a house with lead pipes and unfiltered spring water as the source of drinking water. At some point a municipal piped supply was provided but the 3rd tap, the spring water tap was preferred as drinking water. Like you, last time I checked I'm still alive very many decades later.

            According to the directer of the Traad Point water research lab on Lough Neagh lead in potable water only became a problem with central heating and working wives, the combination resulting in water sitting stationary in warmish surroundings for many hours during the day so that the concentration built up. In a multi-generational household with seldom less than two adults in the house and where there would be ice on the inside of the windows on a cold morning that was not a problem.

            1. Wellyboot Silver badge

              Re: Mount Inaccessible

              I was told as a nipper to run cold tap for a minute to flush the water from house lead pipes before drinking, especially in the morning.

              1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                Re: Mount Inaccessible

                These days, you'd have to balance that against the water meter.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Mount Inaccessible

                  On Victorian houses that still have lead pipes, you don't have a water meter. (Guess how I know that)

                  However, it's still not much more expensive than having a watermeter (and not using any water) because the pipe is so small that it only allows basically one tap to be on at full, and presumably somebody did the math and calculated that it was impossible on a practical level to use enough water to be worth bothering with.

              2. Spoobistle
                Boffin

                Re: Plumbosolvency!

                Now there's a word I haven't seen for a while. In the olden days when chemists used burettes and washbottles and got jobs with the Water Board, they were taught about such things. Apparently soft water, as seen in areas fed from peat covered volcanic geology like western Scotland and north-west England, contains organic acids that do lift a bit of lead off the pipes so flushing is not a bad idea. In hard water areas (on chalky ground) the minerals tend to coat the inners of the pipe so there is less of a danger. In the cities of course, you got plenty of lead from the dust in the car exhausts anyway.

                > run cold tap for a minute to flush the water from house lead pipes

                1. adam 40 Silver badge
                  Alert

                  Re: Plumbosolvency!

                  Actually now you get platinum from the car exhausts.

                  Which explains the massive rise in asthma attacks.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Mount Inaccessible

              I've always been told that water straight from a mountain spring - no water upstream - was about the cleanest water you could find. Has minerals, sure, but little to no bacteria/virii and should have no plastics. Drunk fresh, it's also quite cold and, er, refreshing.

              1. Lon24

                Re: Mount Inaccessible

                I wouldn't be surprised if they found microplastics on the top of Mount Everest nowadays. Something Hillary & Tensing didn't have to worry about.

                1. Orv Silver badge

                  Re: Mount Inaccessible

                  On Everest? Probably find bags of poop and dead climbers.

  2. b0llchit Silver badge
    Trollface

    Sales argument

    They [ts]old me that bottled water was Good for me. Now they have proven its nutritional value(*).

    (*) They should coat the plastic, solid and floating, with vitamins. If it has vitamins, it must be Good and Better.

    /s

    1. lvm

      Re: Sales argument

      Sadly vast majority of plastics and all of those that can be found in bottled water are biologically inert. So no value, no harm and a lot of unfounded sensationalism.

      1. Groo The Wanderer Silver badge

        Re: Sales argument

        Unfortunately far too many people take that attitude about far too many things, pushing the limits in each case, resulting in the rampant total pollution that we face today.

      2. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: Sales argument

        You're ignoring the fact that science is kind of saying "well, you know how we said they were biologically inert and therefore safe...?"

      3. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: Sales argument

        Says who ?

        The dying oceans or rivers ?

    2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Re: Sales argument

      And you believed them WHY ?

  3. Dippywood

    Peckham Springs

    Don't tell Del - he'll market it as "Now with Added Plastic."

  4. Cucumber C Face

    Nanoparticles in water for the past 5 billion years

    Tiny particles suspended in water are ubiquitous naturally from a wide range of sources and materials.

    Acknowledgement of this places this in context. While the plastic materials may be new and perhaps different in some way, small largely inert particles in water are not an entirely novel biological threat.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789313/

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Nanoparticles in water for the past 5 billion years

      Yes, but you're glossing over the important part difference between things we have been consuming for multiple generations and things that haven't been used longer than living memory. I think plastic bottles were introduced to the market after WWII.

  5. msknight

    This has managed to scare my mother

    We use bottled water as it tastes better than tap water ... and part of the problem is who knows what's in that ... and it's easier to put in the fridge in summer as she needs a good supply of chilled water to keep her cool. The filtration jugs that we've tried are useless and we go through filters like... er... water.

    I feel that this has been presented by the news in general without any balance. I mean, even getting out of bed in the morning is a risk. I wonder how much plastic is in my milk bottles, but there are issues with alternatives as well.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: This has managed to scare my mother

      I use bottled water for all drinking and cooking (the tap water is from a well and it's not great). I'm not overly worried about plastics in the water as there are many worse things in my food (while I eat organic meat now, I grew up with meat stuffed full of antibiotics and maybe the odd defective prion or two). I take comfort in thinking that the water I'm drinking has been through a few humans, thousands of animals, and the odd diplodocus...so I'm just another meatsack in the chain of life. It'll go in as tea, come out as pee, and continue its journey.

      1. Brian 3

        Re: This has managed to scare my mother

        Here in winnipeg, canada our tap water is soft and pretty high quality (about 120-160ppm TDS, 7.6pH) but the pipes in the city are all too old, break and leak every winter. So you randomly get sick off it, and bad smells. The city's warnings and supply of "portable potable water" trailers are usually late in the game and insufficient to cover the affected areas. I installed an RO unit and pressure vessel for drinking water and very happy with that. Top quality ice for sure.

        AFAIK our canadian meat is not allowed to be fed antibiotics or hormones.

      2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: This has managed to scare my mother

        Why not get a filter ?

        Do you take comfort in knowing you are polluting the great outdoors so theres plastic waste everywhere ?

        Your descendants will be glad knowing everything is trashed because of your comfort.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: This has managed to scare my mother

          I live downstream from an industrial pig farm. In terms of pollutants, mine is a probably I rounding error compared to that. And, trust me, a filter can only do so much - the water is only fit for a shower, washing clothes, and once in a while dumping onto the plants.

  6. Ourshug
    Unhappy

    Reverse Osmosis...!

    "the most popular membrane material used in reverse osmosis … a common water purification method shared by all three brands [of water tested],"

    RO isn't allowed in products classified as spring or mineral waters, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

    So those three products tested were branded bottled water from processing town/municipal water supplies?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reverse Osmosis...!

      One was probably Peckham Spring.

    2. cyberdemon Silver badge

      Re: Reverse Osmosis...!

      And the other was Dasani

      1. Ourshug

        Re: Reverse Osmosis...!

        Exactly that ...

        Did they do the same testing on bottled spring or mineral water products?

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Reverse Osmosis...!

          Testing? This is Coca Cola we're talking about. They put Phosphoric Acid into fizzy drinks and sell them to kids, only because they aren't allowed to use Cocaine anymore ...

  7. Peter Prof Fox

    Scary enough to click!

    Oohh! Particles. Lots of them. Can't see them though which makes them scary. Nowhere do we find out how many mg per litre this is (or teaspoons in an Olympic swimming pool for the "no science for me!" brigade.)

  8. Wellyboot Silver badge

    PET is easy to spot at any size.

    Given that PET is C10H8O4 and PE is a long chain of C2H4

    Putting water through a Mass Spec to see exactly what's in it is fairly simple way to spot all the carbon* and ask where's that from.

    Next question - where can something this small accumulate in the human body and in a big enough volume to matter?

    *(H & O hides in the water)

  9. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge
    Coat

    Relative purity

    If the water filtration plant floods the water with PA nano particles, the relative amount of other impurities/garbage goes down.

    -> Where's my relativistic water filter?

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Relative purity

      No, that's not relative purity, really... it seems a lot like absolute purity to me, because you're doing a one-dimensional measure of "how many impurities does it have", with no concern to what they are.

      Water that's swimming with bacteria is relatively purer than water containing nano-plastics from one point of view: the consumer can just boil the bacteria-laden water before they drink it, but there is no consumer tech to remove microplastics.

      Companies have not necessarily reduced overall risk -- they have eliminated known problems that have had known solutions for generations, and they've introduced new problems with no known solution.

  10. Bebu Silver badge
    Pint

    Should have tested beer

    Back in Cobbitt's day he recommended (small) beer over tea (an anathema), milk or water.

    I wouldn't be surprised if traditional beer making as described in his A Cottage Economy somehow removed (flocculated?) these nano/microplastics from the final product.

    An opinionated old bugger but I reckon his England was better for all its faults than the contemporary one but I think G K Chesterton made the same observation a very long time ago.

    1. pdh

      Re: Should have tested beer

      There are fining agents (substances that a brewer can add to beer in order to help clarify it) that are basically powdered plastic. The idea is that the plastic drops out (flocculates) and doesn't make it into the finished product, but it attracts some other kinds of particles on the way down, so they are removed as well.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: Should have tested beer

        Cloudy beer is on the increase for fashion reasons -- I think you've just predicted a big move towards this in the market.

      2. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: Should have tested beer

        Fining agents are basically gelatin. That's ground fish bladders for the gentry and ground abbatoir cartilage for you and me.

  11. Grogan Silver badge

    Well, lets go back to refillable (or recyclable) glass bottles. Jeeze, nothing is more refreshing than ice cold beverages in chilled glass bottles.

    Glass can be cleaned and sterilized, unlike plastics, so it can be reusable. It can also be remelted and used to some extent. Glass is probably the safest thing to use. Unfortunately it's weighty though.

    Pain in the ass, but we still take glass wine, liquor and beer bottles back for deposit. Cans too, but fewer people bother with those, they tend to just go in the recycle bin unless there's a lot of them to justify a trip. They'll give you a few cents for plastics too, like plastic liquor bottles and the liners from those wine boxes.

    For that matter, aluminum cans could be used for bottled water too. They are recyclable for sure, one of the most valuable recyclable materials. However, they need to find other plastics to line them with. (I think currently it's polycarbonate which can release BPA... "bisphenol-A". I don't know how much of a concern it really is in trace amounts, but it's pretty frowny these days)

    I'm 60 and I probably don't have to give a shit. I might drink one bottle of water a week (if I go on a car trip... otherwise we have very good tap water here) but I'm not liking what I'm hearing about PET bottles now.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      All that recycling is wonderful. I still use a plastic bottle. Well, two actually. One of them is quite new, less than a year old, because one day last summer I forgot to take the 10-15 year old bottle with me. I rinse them out and fill them every day, leaving them in the fridge overnight ready for another re-use. I guess one day they will be recycled. But re-using is the primary thing. I think my primary water bottle is a 750ml Volvic Sport, the ones with the flip cap/nozzle, but the label deteriorated and disappeared many years ago :-) The previous bottle was a similar type, but eventually the flip cap hinge snapped. I probably got 10 years out of that one too. I'm not being especially "green" or conscious of being eco-friendly etc, just object to the ridiculous cost of buying a bottle of water. I've probably save £100's if not £1000;s over the last 20-30 years by refilling from the tap :-)

      I suppose if I should have any real concerns about re-using that bottle for so many years, it's how is the plastic holding up and am I getting even more micro-particles now than I used to.

    2. Ourshug

      Yes but no, it ain't ever going to happen.

      Truck/lorry trailers are already load & weight limited with any/all liquid beverages. You want to add 150 - 200g to every 500ml <10g PET bottle and cut the load down by another third...

      So unless trailers double their load carrying capacity or manufacturers half the loads and double their transport cost.

      Nope, not gonna happen ever..

      (Alu is light but too expensive for anything other than a premium bottle (can?) of water that costs as much or more than a can of Cola..)

  12. DS999 Silver badge

    Plastics are everywhere

    They are found in the middle of Antarctica, at the bottom of the ocean, and in rainwater. Therefore they are already in all water you drink at this point at some level.

    So rather than worrying about drinking out of a plastic bottle, we should be figuring out what those plastics are / will be doing to us and the environment. Because even if we quit using plastic tomorrow, this stuff is likely to be with us at least through the lifetime of anyone alive now including those born five minutes ago (and I'll bet if we look closely they were born with some level of plastics in their blood)

    If they are doing bad things to us, it is too late to remove them from the environment. Instead we have to concentrate on figuring out ways to mitigate the negative effects.

  13. jmch Silver badge

    "even if we quit using plastic tomorrow, this stuff is likely to be with us at least through the lifetime of anyone alive now including those born five minutes ago "

    Far longer than that actually. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down, and it actually simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, hence the proliferation of micro and nano particles. There are some interesting prospects of developing certain types of bacteria that feed on plastic, but the only way to be free of plastic waste is if such bacteria were ubiquitous (and that in turn means the lifetime even of in-use plastics would be severely limited)

  14. PB90210 Bronze badge

    I think it's the Law of Unintended Consequences...

    A while back I went to pick up a plastic bag containing old documents, only for it to disintegrate in my hands.

    Back in the '80s folks were complaining that plastics were being dumped in landfill that would take centuries to break down and people came up with biodegradable plastics as the answer... now the stuff breaks down in decades into microparticles...

    And now we have starch-based plastics that are 'compostable' but have to be kept separate from domestic rubbish...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like