Post Mortem

How safe is your bottled drinking water?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 6/8/2019 11:56:37 AM IST

 Transportation and storage of drinking water have been one of the main concerns of humankind for many centuries. In olden days, potable water was stored predominantly in animal hide, earthenware, glass bottles followed by plastic bottles. The introduction of plastic was a true revolution due to its lightness, inexpensive and durability unlike glass bottles. Plastic water bottles have become an integral part of our life and its usage has been in a surge in recent years. About 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, and this number is set to increase by another 20% by 2021. There is a common perception that bottled water is healthier, tastier and superior to other water sources. Bottled water is marketed as safe, pure, clean, however recent studies show otherwise. So how safe is our bottled water? 

A study by scientists from the State University of New York revealed that the supposedly pure and clean bottled water is actually transfused with tiny particles of plastic that go completely unnoticed. The researchers tested 259 individual bottles across 11 brands sold in nine countries viz. Brazil, China, Thailand, Indonesia, the US, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and India (19 locations in Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai). The study found that more than 93% of bottled water samples contain microplastics (about 0.10 mm size) at an average of 325 plastic pieces per litre. Samples from India emerged as third-most contaminated, after the United States and Thailand. So, how does bottled water get contaminated? Water-packed in bottles gets contaminated with almost invisible microplastic particles and are most likely to flow into the water during the packaging or bottling process. Plastic detritus found is mainly Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), nylon and polypropylene, which are used to manufacture bottle caps. Other sources of microplastics are from the manufacturing or bottling environment in the factories. A recent study indicates that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 microplastics into the environment. Plastic particles are reported even in bottled water that was sold in glass containers. Recently, the WHO has announced a review into the potential risks of plastics in drinking water after some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands contain plastic particles. 

In Maharashtra, food and drug administration (FDA) agency drew 95 water samples from packaged drinking water plant and found 53% has failed FDA test. Similar instances of unsafe and substandard packaged waters are reported from Pune, Aurangabad, Chennai and Nagpur. The prevalence of such menace is ascribed tounchecked illegal and unauthorisedpackaging plants, where bottle is refilled with tap or groundwater and sell it as processed drinking water. Consequently, the Bureau of Indian Standards and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India are working for the solution on the issue of plastic contamination in bottled water. 

Contamination of bottled water is also attributed to leaching of hazardous plastic chemicals due to prolong exposure to extreme heat conditions, such as by leaving it in your car on hot summer days. Water doesn’t stale but the plastic bottle it contains expires. That is why bottled water has an expiry date and water tastes awful after a period of time than regular water. Repeated re-use of plastic bottles—which get dinged up through normal wear and tear, increases the chance leaching of chemicals compounds into the water. Bacterial and fungal growths are other contaminants, if stored for longer duration. Study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in 2014 establish that PET plastic water bottles release antimony (a carcinogen) and bisphenol A (BPA). BPA, a chemical used to make the plastic hard and clear, which according to the Environment California Research and Policy Centre, has been linked to breast and uterine cancer, increased risk of miscarriage, and decreased testosterone levels. Water bottle also contains phthalates to make plastics (PVC) more flexible; it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical linked with wide range of developmental and reproductive effects, including reduced sperm count, testicular abnormality and tumours, and gender development issues. 

Does it imply that tap water is completely safe to drink? Well no, tap water does contain plastic particles but on a smaller scale. Reportedly, tap water is found to be much safer than bottled water. Bottled water contains twice the microplastic particles present in tap water. The effects of microplastics on human health are still unclear but their presence is not uncommon in fish,shellfish, honey, sea salt to tap water. Plastics are known to release or absorb toxic chemicals; these upon entering our body, can interact with our physiological system in a variety of ways. They have been found in intestinal walls, gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, and liver. According to 2016 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, microplastics have also been shown to enter the bloodstream before they discharge in the kidneys and liver.

The threat of harmful contaminants in bottled drinking water and their environmental pollution is eminent, and can no longer be ignored. In fact, it is a matter of personal choice as to whether or not one consumes water from a tap or bottle. Regardless of the water sources i.e. tap or bottle, the quality and its safety is of paramount importance. Its manufacturers must ensure that the water they produce and pack meet strict quality and safety standards.

Dr. Wati Imchen, 

Geological Survey of India, Dimapur

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