The Invisible Threat: 240,000 Toxic Plastic Nano-Particles in Every Bottle of Water

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Using advanced microscopy, researchers detect over 240,000 plastic particles per liter in bottled water - mostly hazardous nanoplastics below 1 micron. This reveals far higher human exposure than presumed, warranting research on toxicity and regulation. Sweating therapies may help eliminate accrued microplastics.

A startling new study by researchers at Columbia University reveals extraordinarily high levels of micro and nanoplastics in commercial bottled water, with major implications for human health1. Using an advanced microscopy technique called stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) spectroscopy, the scientists achieved unprecedented detection sensitivity to spot individual plastic particles down to 60-100nm - smaller than the wavelength of light2.

Analyzing several popular bottled water brands, they discovered up to 240,000 plastic particles per liter on average3. Significantly, approximately 90% of these particles were nanoplastics under 1 micron (1,000 nm) in size4 - capable of infiltrating cells and tissues. These tiny plastic fragments likely originate from water bottles and filtration systems, continuously shedding during manufacturing and usage5.

Compared to larger microplastics, nanoplastics' miniscule dimensions allow deeper penetration into organs, raising toxicity concerns6. Though still an emerging area, initial studies link plastic particle exposure to inflammation, cell death, metabolic disruption and even cancer7. Fetal health may also suffer - mouse studies confirm nanopolystyrene particles crossing the placental barrier and accumulating in offspring livers and kidneys8.

The researchers achieved this nanoplastics detection breakthrough by developing a hyperspectral SRS microscopy method leveraging spectroscopic signatures of key chemical bond vibrations (e.g. C-H bonds)9. Combined with machine learning algorithms tailored for robust polymer identification from the spectra10, this platform enabled rapid characterization of 240,000 stealth plastic particles - revealing a hidden world of contamination.

Considering adults may ingest thousands of micro and nanoplastics annually from water consumption alone11, this pervasive exposure warrants attention. While further investigation of nanoplastic toxicity is needed, consumers should minimize plastic bottled water intake in the meantime. Using a stainless steel, copper or otherwise non-petrochemically derived water container as much as possible is advisable.

Detoxifying Microplastics Through Sweat

One possible way to enhance bodily detoxification of microplastics is through sauna- or exercise-induced sweating. Research confirms sweating facilitates excretion of toxic metals, petrochemicals and other pollutants12. Though early, a 2022 study detected microplastic particles including polyethylene, PET and polymers from sportswear in sweat collected after exercise13. This preliminary finding suggests sweating may aid microparticle elimination alongside demonstrated clearance of pesticides, flame retardants and bisphenol-A14.

Inducing perspiration through sauna use or exercise could thus offer accessible detoxification therapy for accrued microplastics. As with other toxins, microparticle content in sweat could indicate efficacy of interventions promoting clearance. Further research should explore impacts of repeated sweating on microplastic body burden.

Additionally, regulatory limits specific to nanoplastics in food and drinks could help safeguard public health given the unprecedented exposure uncovered by advanced microscopy techniques. After all, "seeing" the risk is the first step toward safety.

Learn more about detoxification via sweating here.


Reference

1. Qian, N. et al. Rapid single-particle chemical imaging of nanoplastics by SRS microscopy. PNAS. 2024 Jan 8. 

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

6. Gigault J, et al. Nat Nanotechnol. 2021;16(5):501-507

7. Schröter L, Ventura N. Small. 2022;18(22):2201680 

8. Fournier SB, et al. Particle Fibre Toxicol. 2020; 17(1):1-11

9. Qian N, et al. PNAS. 2024 Jan 8. 

10. Ibid

11. Cox, KD., et al. Environ Sci Technol. 2019. 53: 7068-7074 

12. Genuis, S. J. et al. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. (2010) 58: 547. 

13. Varanasi et al. Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters. 2022.

14. Dahlgren et al. Chemosphere. (2007) 67(9):S375-83.

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