Plastic is an infinitely versatile and cheap material to produce but is an ecological curse and biohazard threatening all life, degrading down to smaller particles when exposed to sunlight, air, water and general wear referred to as microplastics, plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in length. Microplastics continue degrade down to nanoplastics that are less than 1 micron in length.
More microplastics are increasing in our environment as millions of plastic products are churned out and sold every minute of every day. The problem is compounded by an ever-increasing diversification of products, shorter life expectancies of consumable plastic products, built-in obsolescence, and higher disposal rates. All plastic products begin breaking down into micro and nano-sized particles from the time they were produced.
No matter how small plastic particles become they never just ‘disappear’ and the toxic chemicals they are made from remain.
Particles of plastic are found in human blood, organs and stool samples (4, 5) and has become a great concern in the scientific community regarding the possible impacts microplastics are having on our health and future generations.
Plastic in drinking water from single-use plastic water bottles is a major source of microplastics entering our body’s. One study analysed 259 bottles of water sold by 11 brands in nine countries found microplastics in 93% of the samples.
The study showed on average there were 325 microplastic particles per litre of bottled water. 95% of particles were between 6.5 and 100 microns in size.
The study was not monitoring the water sources, contamination of water during transportation or the water filter processes, that could attribute a being an associated contributing factor to plastic contamination before bottling. However, it was found the composition of some of the plastic taken from the water samples was from the packaging and bottling process.(6)
The test results varied from 17 bottles with no plastic contamination to one brand that contained more than 10,000 microplastic particles per litre!
Refer to Table 2 to see which brands were assessed in this link and which brands to avoid!(6)
Compared to tap water, plastic bottled water contained an average of twice the amount of microplastic particles thus raising the question, is tap water better than bottled water? (6). While some tap water may have fewer microplastics, other contaminants may be present in tap water including lead, cadmium, arsenic, fluoride, chlorine etc.
The Health Risks of Plastic in Drinking Water
Microplastics that come from plastic water bottles contain Phthalates and other chemical compounds identified as endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDC). Phthalates are just one of many types of EDCs in many products including textiles, carpets, herbicides, lubricants, cookware, processed foods and beverages.
Phthalates as an EDC, interfere with hormone production and function causing a myriad of health problems that can disrupt every aspect of our health.
Hormones are the chemical messengers in your body, constantly balancing your physiology including the metabolism, fertility, immune system, cognition, behaviour and temperament etc, in other words, hormones are involved in every aspect of your physiology.
Phthalates stunt and/or alter fetal development and cause of many health issues in children that become the basis for ill-health in adults. Phthalates weaken the immune system (9) and contribute to adult obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ADHD and the risk of cancer (7,8,9).
Microplastics compromise the Immune System
Microplastics kill the white blood cells that are the frontline of your immune system and can cause inflammatory reactions and localised tissue damage.(10, 11)
Three ways microplastics affect human health:
* physical tissue damage
* leaching toxic chemicals such as Phthalates that affect the endocrine system
* as a carrier for bacteria (2,3)
While up to 90% of microplastics are eliminated, nanoplastics are less likely to be eliminated (13). As plastic particle accumulate in the body so too does the the body’s exposure to chemical toxicity increase.
When nanoplastics enter the circulatory system they begin to clump together and disrupt blood flow and damage red and white blood cells. They will also attract and bind to proteins causing the shape of the protein to change, which interferes with the ability of the protein to function (5, 12).
Some nanoplastics are stored in organ tissue such as the brain, heart, and lungs.
Plastic toxicity is also harmful to beneficial gut bacteria, probiotics. (13)
Plastic particles cause liver inflammation in rats and mice.(2) Although the doses that caused the inflammatory reaction were much higher than the concentrations of plastic particles found in drinking water, these short term studies do not represent the sum of health risks as plastic accumulates in our bodies for years.
The long-term effects of plastic stored in our bodies is not fully understood, but it is known the more plastic we accumulate in our body’s the greater the toxic impact on our health and therefore, the greater the health risks.
Scientists investigating the effects of plastic contamination are urgently calling for more funding to research and understand the magnitude of the health threat to all life caused by the biological assimilation of plastic particles.
Simply put, we must find sustainable alternatives to plastic and put them to use immediately, and collectively, to make a serious effort to reduce the amount of plastic polluting our environment.
There are many good reasons to stop plastic from going into your body.
Take action by filtering your drinking water and removing water from plastic asap. Use a reusable water bottle that is not made from plastic or aluminium – we can’t recommend copper bottles highly enough because of copper’s durability and antimicrobial properties, and inspire governments to legislate against single-use plastic water bottles. (2,9)
The many reasons to avoid
drinking from plastic bottles
- Parker, Laura. “How the Plastic Bottle Went from Miracle Container to Hated Garbage.” National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/plastic-bottles/
- “Information Sheet: Microplastics in Drinking-Water.” World Health Organization, WHO, 26 Aug. 2019, www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/water-quality/guidelines/microplastics-in-dw-information-sheet/en/
- Wright, Stephanie, and Frank Kelly. “Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue?” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 51, no. 12, 2017, pp. 6634–6647. ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/317078116_Plastic_and_Human_Health_A_Micro_Issue
- Koelmans, Albert, et al. “Microplastics in Freshwaters and Drinking Water: Critical Review and Assessment of Data Quality.” Water Research, vol. 155, 2019, pp. 410–422. Science Direct, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043135419301794
- Jain, Aditi. “Microplastics, an Invisible Danger to Human Health.” Down To Earth. N.p., 2019. Web. 18 Aug. 2020.
- Mason, Sherri, et al. “Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water.” Frontiers in Chemistry, vol. 6, 2018. Frontiers, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fchem.2018.00407/full
- Singh, Sher, and Steven Li. “Epigenetic Effects of Environmental Chemicals Bisphenol A and Phthalates.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 13, no. 8, 2012, pp. 10143–10153. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3431850/
- Braun, Joseph M. “Phthalate Exposure and Childrenʼs Health.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics, vol. 25, no. 2, 2013, pp. 247–254. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747651/
- Manikkam, Mohan. “Plastics Derived Endocrine Disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) Induce Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Obesity, Reproductive Disease and Sperm Epimutations.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554682/
- “Nienke Vrisekoop on Microplastic’s Impact on Human Immune Cells | Plastic Health Summit 2019.” Performance by Nienke Vrisekoop, YouTube, 2019, youtu.be/b-8DZ2taGPA
- Spink, Abigail. “New Evidence Points to Microplastics’ Toxic Impact on the Human Body.” Geographical, Geographical Magazine, 2019, geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3422-microplastic-human-cells
- Gopinath, Ponnusamy Manogaran, et al. “Assessment on Interactive Prospectives of Nanoplastics with Plasma Proteins and the Toxicological Impacts of Virgin, Coronated and Environmentally Released-Nanoplastics.” Scientific Reports, vol. 9, no. 1, 2019. ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/333894949
- Smith, Madeleine. “Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health.” Current Environmental Health Reports, vol. 5, no. 3, 2018, pp. 375–386. NCBI, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30116998/
About the author:
Kristine Wagner MHS, CPH
Kristine holds a Master of Health Science in Environmental Health and a Certificate in Risk Science from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a Certified in Public Health Professional by the NBPHE.
She was a Strategic Information Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda supporting HIV/AIDS programs in conjunction with the CDC. She worked as a health scientist at Cardno ChemRisk.
As a student, she conducted environmental health research related to oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon and wrote her graduate thesis on drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
Kristine is also a professional scuba diving instructor (PADI MSDT) and worked as a diver in Mexico, Thailand, and Turks & Caicos. She also speaks Spanish and French.