Amidst the growing concern of the environmental impact of plastic waste, the World Health Organization has launched plans to investigate the potential hazards to health posed by ingestion of microplastic particles found to be present in bottled water. The announcement follows the publication of research conducted by the State University of New York at Fredonia, which investigated the polymer content of 11 different brands of bottled water. The results of the research found that of 259 individual bottles tested, 93% revealed microplastic contamination.
On average, 10.4 microplastic particles, larger than 100µm were found per litre of water. Even more concerning, smaller particles, those 6.5-100µm in size, were found at an average concentration of 325 particles/L.
There is currently a lack of research regarding the ingestion of microplastics and their potential hazard to health. However, Professor Mason of the University explains that the smaller of these microscopic polymers may breach the wall of the gastrointestinal tract, where they may accumulate at the lymph nodes or even the liver of the consumer. Furthermore, the larger of these microplastics, although unable to breach the gastrointestinal wall and are likely excreted, may release harmful chemicals during their journey through the digestive system.
Due to the current lack of evidence of the effects of microplastic consumption, there are no legal regulations on the microplastic content of bottled water. Regardless, consumers are of course becoming increasingly concerned by the presence of such contaminants in the water they consume.
Microplastic contamination is likely to be due to contamination of water prior to bottling, or the bottling process itself, highlighting an evident need for microplastic control of both the product and the packaging process. The particles found by the researchers at the State University of New York at Fredonia were found to be >6.5µm in size. Microfiltration solutions for the food and beverage industry offered by Parker Bioscience have the capacity to filter particulate down to 0.2µm and therefore have the potential to eliminate all microplastics from bottled water through implementation of filtration into production and packaging process.
Applications of filtration in bottled water production
1. Microfiltration of drinking water
Prefiltration cartridges from Parker Bioscience have the capability to remove visible particulate from drinking water, ensuring a clear and visually appealing water. In addition to the removal of visible particulate, the microfiltration of drinking water removes particulate down to a sub-micron level, including microplastics, and microorganisms which aren’t visible to the naked eye. This process ensures the content of the bottled water is contaminant-free prior to packaging.
2. Microfiltration of compressed gas used for bottle shaping
Scientists conducting the research found that 4% of particles larger than 100µm showed the presence of industrial lubricants. It is likely these industrial lubricants are a consequence of aerosols found in unfiltered pressurised gas, which is used to ‘blow’ the bottles into their required shapes. Microfiltration of compressed gas removes atmospheric dust, moisture, industrial lubricants and other contaminants which in turn, not only protects equipment but removes the risk of these particles contaminating the product.
3. Microfiltration of water used to wash bottles
The results of the research highlighted that the 54% of polymers present in the water were Polypropylene, a common plastic used for bottle caps, leading researchers to conclude contamination is at least partly due to the bottling process. The contamination of drinking water with these microplastics may be avoided by thorough washing of the plastic bottles with contaminant-free water prior to bottling. This process will remove any particulate within the bottle, which may have consequentially became suspended in the product and ingested by the consumer.
To summarise, microfiltration cartridges offered by Parker Bioscience provide solutions to microplastic contamination of bottled water, a current disruptive issue within the bottled water industry. Microfiltration of microplastics may not only protect the consumer's health but reinforce consumer confidence in the bottled water brand itself.
This post was contributed by Daniel Vecsey, market development manager, Parker Bioscience, United Kingdom.
Parker Bioscience Division offers filtration solutions to protect the quality and taste of beverage products. By working with our application experts, manufacturers can develop a tailored solution to ensure their beverage is free from contamination, full of flavour and visibly clear.