A recent study has unveiled a troubling reality regarding our daily water consumption, exposing that the typical water bottle contains nearly 250,000 fragments of "nanoplastics" – tiny particles with the potential to disrupt human cell function. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study navigates an unexplored realm of plastic pollution, focusing on particles roughly the size of viruses or vaccine particles.
While microplastics have long been a recognized environmental concern, this study shifts its focus to nanoplastics, particles thousands of times smaller and measured in billionths of a meter. This significant size difference raises heightened health concerns, as nanoplastics can easily penetrate various barriers within the human body.
Employing an innovative laser imaging technique, the study identified plastics at an unprecedented small scale. Filtering water from common brands through an exceptionally fine-grained filter, researchers captured particles measurable in billionths of a meter. Remarkably, only 10% of the total nanoparticles were plastics, with the remaining particles including unidentified microscopic clays, metals, black carbon from fires, and plastics too degraded to be detected.
Adding to the concern is the chemical structure of plastics, closely resembling that of living organisms. Plastics can mimic or disrupt biological functions by imitating the structure of essential chemical messengers in various bodily functions. The study found various plastics in bottled water, with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) being the most prevalent. Moreover, potentially hazardous nanoplastics not found in the bottles themselves were detected, suggesting undisclosed sources of environmental contamination.
The study shed light on the infiltration of plastic compounds into water through filtration, prompting worries about plastics leaching into water during this process. Certain perilous particles, like PVC and polystyrene, seemed to be present in the source water, potentially originating from emissions by plastics plants releasing aerosolized plastic gases into the environment.
Health risks tied to nanoplastics, especially for vulnerable demographics like the very young and elderly, are of significant concern. Nanoplastics, capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, may lead to neural degeneration, particularly in older individuals. Exposure to these particles may result in nervous system cell damage, heightening the risk of disorders and behavioral changes, with nanoplastics posing a greater threat than microplastics. Additionally, nanoplastics can cross the placenta, potentially endangering developing fetuses.
The study emphasizes the imperative role of toxicologists in assessing the health impacts of nanoplastic exposure. Determining precise exposure levels is crucial for further research on the toxicity consequences linked to these minute particles. The researchers employed Raman scattering, a novel method for identifying specific nanoplastics, paving the way for future studies on the prevalence and health impacts of these particles in diverse environments.
Source: The Hill - Bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of potentially dangerous plastic fragments: study