The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced plans to research the potential health risks of microplastics in bottled water. The WHO initiative is partly in response to a recent study that screened more than 250 bottles from 11 brands across nine countries for microplastics. The study found an average of 10 plastic particles per liter of water.
According to BBC News, the study used a dye called Nile Red, which binds to free floating particles of plastic. Smaller particles, presumed to be plastic but unidentified, were found in an average of 314 per liter. Out of the 250 water bottles tested, only 17 were found to have no microplastic particles. That means that 93% of the bottles showed signs of microplastic contamination. This study conducted by researchers from the State University of New York at Fredonia is the largest of its kind in a largely unknown field.
Professor Sherri Mason, a lead researcher on the study, argued that more investigation is needed to find out if microplastics are harmful for human consumption.
“What we do know is that some of these particles are big enough that, once ingested, they are probably excreted but along the way they can release chemicals that cause known human health impacts,” Mason said. On the flip side, some of the microplastic particles can be so small that that they can make their way across the gastrointestinal tract.
WHO’s latest announcement aims to increase scientific understanding of microplastic contamination health effects, raise public understanding and, ultimately, set a threshold.
“We normally have a ‘safe’ limit but to have a safe limit, to define that, we need to understand if these things are dangerous, and if they occur in water at concentration that are dangerous,” said Bruce Gordon, coordinator of the WHO’s global work on water and sanitation.