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drinking plastic

Researchers tested how many microplastic particles we consume by drinking mineral water from disposable bottles and came back with alarming findings

Racheli Vox, Angle - Science and Environment News Agency

Plastic waste on the beach. Photo: from PIXABAY.COM
Plastic waste on the beach. Photo: from PIXABAY.COM

In recent years, plastic seems to be everywhere. Thus, for example, the authorities in Nepal recently announced that they will ban the introduction and sale of single-use plastic products in the Mount Everest area, following the huge amounts of plastic waste that the many travelers leave behind. The plastic accumulates in oceans, mountains, cities, agricultural areas and even in unexpected places such as the bottom of the sea and the ice in the Arctic Circle. And if that's not enough, the plastic also penetrates into our bodies. An Italian study recently examined how much microplastic (plastic particles in the size range between 5 millimeters and a few thousandths of a mm) we consume through drinking mineral water from bottles - and the findings were not encouraging.

In a study published in the journal Water Research, the researchers examined mineral water bottles from ten different brands. They focused on extremely small microplastic particles, with a diameter of 10-0.5 microns (thousandths of a millimeter).

Microplastic particles were found in all the water bottles tested, and the researchers report that the concentration of the substance ranges widely between 100 and 3,000 micrograms of microplastic per liter of mineral water and on average 657 micrograms of plastic per liter of water were found. According to the researchers' assessment, an adult who consumes mineral water from bottles drinks 40 micrograms of plastic per kilogram of his body weight per day, and a child drinks no less than 88 micrograms of plastic per kilogram of his weight.

The concentration of microplastics found in the water varied between the different brands of mineral water. In bottles where the acidity of the water was lower (the pH value of the water was higher relative to the others), more extremely small microplastic particles were found. In the bottle that was made of the poorest plastic, the largest amount of microplastic was found.

Microplastic particles were found in all the water bottles tested, and the researchers report that the concentration of the substance ranges widely from 100 to 3,000 micrograms of microplastic per liter of mineral water. Photo: noppadon manadee – unsplash

From the bottle to the stomach

How does the microplastic get to the drinking bottles? "Studies show that this usually happens during the production phase of the bottle itself, from the release of small fibers that are on the caps or on the sides of the bottles, which can tear or cut and get into the bottle," explains Dr. Noam van der Hal, who researches in the laboratory of Dr. Dror Ang from the Department of Marine Civilizations at the University of Haifa on the subject of microplastics. "In addition, if the environment is not clean enough, fibers and pieces of plastic may enter the bottle even during the other production stages, where there is exposure to air. This can happen even before the bottles are even filled with water." According to him, bottles of other drinks, such as juices and carbonated drinks, are produced in the same way, so it is quite possible that they also contain microplastic particles.

Should we start fearing mineral water? Not necessarily. Currently there is not enough data to know clearly how the consumption of microplastic affects humans, and it may not cause us harm. Also, the researchers themselves write that they are unable to assess the health effects because they do not have data regarding the scope of the exposure, which includes sources that we are exposed to on a daily basis and which contain microplastics (such as: food, cosmetics and the pharmaceutical industry, and from the environment - particles carried in the air and water) and there is still a lack of epidemiological information regarding the effects The health effects of this exposure on various types of morbidity in humans.

It is also important to note that the study was criticized, which dealt, among other things, with the fact that the exact research method is not described in the article (because it is protected by a commercial patent), and with the fact that the concentrations of plastic that the researchers report that they found in the water appear to other scientists to be too high.

Do not leave it in the field

In any case, outside of our mineral water, there is no doubt that microplastics cause extensive damage. Enormous amounts of microplastics reach the oceans and seas, originating from plastic products that have worn out and broken down, as well as plastic parts that have been purposely produced in microscopic sizes for various uses (such as the plastic pellets that are added to cosmetic products).

The microplastic and the toxins it adsorbs to it may harm marine animals that think it is food, including large animals such as whales, whale sharks and manta rays, as well as many and varied types of fish, crabs, oysters, sponges, and even various seabirds, such as albatrosses, which collect food from the water. The microplastic may also pass through the food chain, harming animals that feed on the animals that ate it.

In various studies, it was found that when the microplastic reaches the body of the various animals, it may cause, among other things, neurological problems, developmental problems, intestinal blockage, changes in the secretion of hormones and effects on growth and fetal development.

The microplastic is part of the wider problem of plastic waste, of which the plastic bottles themselves are a significant part: despite the disposable image of the plastic, it will only begin to decompose hundreds of years later (if at all). According to scientists' estimates, by 2050 the weight of plastic in the sea may exceed the weight of the fish in it. "The most critical thing is prevention: we need to reduce and stop the use of plastic, especially single-use plastic," says van der Hal. According to him, if you already use plastic, it is important not to leave it in the field, from where it can easily reach unwanted places such as the sea, but to take it with you, when of course it is better to throw it in a recycling bin and not in the garbage.

"It is also important to invest in policy on this issue and in the development of alternative products," Van der Hal adds. "The use of plastic is bad throughout, at all stages of the process. We need to avoid it, and intelligently reduce our use of plastic," he concludes.

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