Microscopy detection technique sees more nanoplastics in bottled water, study finds

nanoplastics in bottled water
The researchers tested three popular brands of bottled water sold in the U.S., but declined to identify the companies.  Photo Credit: hedgehog94, adobestock.com

By using a new microscopy detection method, a recent study found that one litre of bottled water contained an average of 240,000 fragments of nanoplastics, exceeding previous estimates by up to 100 times. 

The detection technique, called stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, was co-invented by study co-author Wei Min, a Columbia University biophysicist, who says it consists of probing samples with two simultaneous lasers tuned to “make specific molecules resonate”. 

Targeting seven common plastics, the researchers created a data-driven algorithm to interpret the results. Although, the seven plastic types accounted for only about 10% of all the nanoparticles they found in samples. 

“It is one thing to detect, but another to know what you are detecting,” said Min in a statement from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. 

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Many previous studies could provide only bulk estimates of nano mass, said researchers, but for the most part could not count individual particles, nor identify which were plastics or something else. 

The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, and Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

The researchers tested three popular brands of bottled water sold in the U.S., but declined to identify the companies.  

They analyzed plastic particles down to just 100 nanometers in size and found 110,000 to 370,000 particles per litre, 90% of which were nanoplastics, the rest were microplastics.  

“Nanoplastics are so tiny that, unlike microplastics, they can pass through the intestines and lungs directly into the bloodstream and travel from there to organs including the heart and brain,” states a news release about the study from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “They can invade individual cells, and cross through the placenta to the bodies of unborn babies.” 

Among the plastics commonly found in the bottled water study were polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, as well as polyamide, a type of nylon. Other common plastics found were polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and polymethyl methacrylate, all used in various industrial processes. 

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