Bottled water can contain thousands of particles of nanoplastics, research suggests

The study found that vast quantities of nanoplastics – around 240,000 in a litre – could be found in bottled water. This was between 10 and 100 times greater than they had previously estimated.

A more dangerous prospect

Microplastics form when plastics break down into smaller and smaller bits. But it doesn’t always stop there.  Most plastics do not break down into other substances when they get smaller but simply divide, with almost no theoretical limit to how small they can become. Nanoplastics are the result of microplastics breaking down even more.

While microplastics are suspected of being harmful to human health, nanoplastics pose dangers that microplastics don’t. Unlike microplastics, nanoplastics are so small that they can pass through lungs or intestines into the human bloodstream, and from there travel to the heart or brain. They can even make it into our cells and cross the placenta (an organ which develops in the uterus during pregnancy) into unborn babies.

While research is still ongoing into what affects this may have, current studies, such as one published in the journal Frontiers last year, suggest that plastics are carriers of a range of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) which can harm human health. Furthermore, the smaller the plastic particle, the larger the absorption capacity and relative surface area, meaning that nanoplastics pose a greater threat than microplastics.

Bottle water and microplastics 

The present study is the latest in a growing body​ of research linking bottled water to microplastics. In 2022, the organisation Agir pour l’Environment (Acting for the Environment) in France found microplastic contamination in around 78% of best-selling bottled water brands in France. Furthermore, in 2018, the State University of New York found that there is twice as much microplastic in bottled water as tap water.