The WHO has launched a health review after assessing possible risks of plastic in drinking water from all top water bottle brands. The new analysis indicated, almost 90 % of the water bottle tested have micro particles of plastic which included 259 samples across nine countries and comprised 11 brands including Brazil, US, India and Indonesia. Indian cities that are included in the sample are Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. The study specifically mentions the batch number and location of purchase for all the 27 lots of samples containing 259 bottles tested. Only 17 individual bottles “showed no microplastic contamination more than possible laboratory background”, said the study. The samples were sourced from many locations to increase the likelihood of diverse bottling sources. Densities of microplastic contamination varied from zero contamination to one bottle with an excess of 10,000 microplastic particles per liter.
Putting top global brands, such as Evian, Bisleri and Aquafina under the radar, the study also reported that a Bisleri sample from Chennai has around five thousand micro fibers of plastic per liter which is way beyond the safe limits of foreign particles in potable water. Top global brands including Aquafina, Evian as well as the Indian brand Bisleri were tested. A Bisleri sample from Chennai showed over 5,000 microplastic particles per liter, according to data published by the research team.
Despite tall claims of the bottling companies with respect to strict quality control enforced for maintaining water quality, this new research shows that they have not been able to do their bit. Presence of carcinogenic substance to a bothersome level in drinking water is a testimony to what several environmentalists have been propagating about the use of plastic in the past. Using plastic in food and beverage packaging has been seen with a long-held skepticism which raises concerns about polypropylene, which is used in packaging water bottle. The sample of water from plastic bottles contains nylon to around 16 % and polypropylene to whopping 54 %.
It is appalling to know that even after considering contamination during laboratory handling, 93 % of the bottled water showed a certain level of microplastic which is a concern not only in terms of health risks but also congenital problems in future generations. On an average, 10.4 plastic particles per liter were found in spectroscopic analysis which is twice as much as what was found in previous studies.
Being a loosely regulated industry in India, Packaged drinking water has hundreds of big and small brands vying for a share of the metro and small-town market. The state and central agencies are the ones that regulate the bottling units, including the Bureau of Indian Standards and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Indian Institute of Packaging is instrumental in checking water bottle samples for “quality of plastic and related contamination inside the bottle” on behalf of BIS. Officials with the IIP lab in Mumbai said preventive action is taken by BIS only if residual monomers, heavy metals or residual (chemical) catalysts are found beyond acceptable limits. However, such cases are rare, they said. Among leading companies, PepsiCo India contested the study’s findings, saying, “Aquafina maintains rigorous quality-control measures, sanitary manufacturing practices, filtration and other food safety mechanisms which yield a reliably safe product for enjoyment anywhere in the world. The science of microplastics and microfibers is in its infancy. Microplastic particles are found across our environment, including soil, air and water.”
The bottled water industry faced tough questions earlier when studies indicated high pesticide residue in the water. This resulted in a crackdown and more scrutiny on the bottling process. The distinction between “natural mineral water” and “bottled water” also came in through awareness campaigns and consumer activism which questioned the widespread use of the term “mineral water” for packaged water which had not been fortified with minerals. Most companies then switched to describing their product as “bottled water”.
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