Microplastics In Bottled Water


That there are microplastics in bottled water is no surprise. But the quantity of these tiny terrors found in a single bottle is really shocking.

I have been trying to convince people for years to STOP drinking water from plastic bottles. The results of a 2024 study provide just one more really good reason to drop this toxic habit. 

One of my firsts posts on this site was about the toxic chemicals in plastic water bottles. And for years, although many well-known wellness sites touted the safety and stability of PET plastic, I kept reading the research and writing about the migration of toxic chemicals from PET bottles into your water.

Maybe, just maybe, the results of a new study, done by researchers at Columbia University, identifying the types, size and amounts of microplastics in bottled water, will finally convince all of you to stop. While other studies have identified the amount of microplastics in bottles water, this study took the research further.

Using new technology, the researchers were able to quantify the smallest plastic particles, called nanoparticles, that were present in bottled water. The difference between microplastics and nanoplastics are their size.

Microplastics are usually defined as plastic particles from 1 um to 5 um (um is a micrometer)

Nanoplastics (nanoparticles of plastic) are defined as particles with a size ranging between 1 nanometer (nm) and 1 μm,

A millimeter is 10 times smaller than a centimeter.

A centimeter = 10 mm.

 A micrometer (also called a micron) is 1000 times smaller than a millimeter. 1 millimeter (mm) = 1000 micrometers (μm).

A nanometer (nm) is 1000 times smaller than a micrometer (micron, um. 1 micrometer (μm) = 1000 nanometers.

Your eye can in general see particles larger than 40 micrometers.

Face Powder – 0.1-30 (um)

Human hair – 40-300 um

Microplastics In Bottled Water Study Highlights 

  1. 240,000 plastic particles were found in 1 liter of bottled water

  2. 90% of the particles were nanoparticles (216,000)

  3. The micro/nano particles were made of many different plastics, The scientists identified compounds such as:
    - nylon, which breaks down into toxic monomers as it degrades;
    - polystyrene (or Styrofoam, commonly found in foam containers), which can break down into the suspected carcinogen styrene;
    - and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can contain harmful additives such as lead or phthalates, and which has been linked to disruptions in the nervous or endocrine systems.
  4. The main type of microplastic found was polyethylene terephthalate (PET). That makes sense Since the bottles are made from PET.

Where Do Microplastics Come From?

So what’s the source of all these micro and nanplastics?

Some of the micro and nanplastics found in bottled drinking water come from the types of material used for the bottles and caps, which is PET. For example, unscrewing the cap and opening a plastic bottle can produce 0.46–250 microplastic particles per cm. They also come from the plastic bottles breaking down with time and/or heat.

Other plastics found in bottled water in high amounts, like polyamide, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), are most likely introduced before or during water production. But the more dangerous particles like PVC and polystyrene are believed to enter the plastic bottles with the “source water” that filled them.

Health Effects Of Microplastics 

Bottled water isn’t the only source of MP exposure. They’re found in the food you eat, the personal care products you use and the air you breath.

For example, it has been estimated that, on average, an individual inhales up to 130 microplastics per day. Some sources of airborne micro/nanoplastics are synthetic textiles like polyester, construction materials, roadwear particles, the breaking down of plastic, landfills, sewage sludge, and waste incineration.

And this exposure is dangerous to your health.

Think about the route the microplastics you ingest take when you drink bottled water. They first enter your digestive system. That means your gut is immediately affected.

And these microparticles can interfere with key microbial communities in your gut, encouraging the growth of harmful bacteria while suppressing beneficial ones. And studies in mice have found that micro- and nanoplastics lead to cell death in the lining of the intestine and increase inflammation in the gut. 

Plus, if nanoplastics are able to get from the digestive system into the blood stream, impacts could be much further reaching — beginning with heart disease. 

A 2024 review of recent research studies published in The Lancet found that microplastic exposure:

  • Can interfere with your body’s chemistry — causing impacts both on and from the communities of microbes in your gut that help us digest food. 
  • Can lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, immune dysfunction, altered biochemical and energy metabolism, impaired cell growth, disrupted microbial metabolic pathways, abnormal organ development, and carcinogenicity.

And nanoparticle size plastic exposure is believed to be more toxic since their smaller size makes it easier to enter the human body and then cross different barriers to get into your cells. Once there, nanoplastics can cause cells to malfunction. Plus, because nanoplastics are small enough to cross  the blood-brain barrier, they can enter your brain and may cause neural degeneration.

Besides the health effects from having plastic particles lodged in your body, microplastics carry with them the toxic chemicals used to make them. So, they increase your exposure to toxic chemicals like plasticizers, stabilizers, flame retardants and endocrine disruptors, including  phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and organotins.

Microplastics in Tap Water

While you can’t eliminate all exposure to microplastics, you can reduce your exposure by taking one simple step. Stop drinking water bottled in plastic.

And that would mean drinking tap water. While studies have found there are microplastics in tap water, they are found in lower amounts. This is because a significant amount of microplastics are removed at water treatment plants.

For example, a 2019 study reported average concentrations of 94.37 microplastics per Liter in bottled water and 4.23 microplastics per Liter in tap water. The researchers estimated that people who only drink bottled water ingest 90,000 microplastics every year, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who only drink tap 

A 2020 study also reported that there were more microplastics in bottled water than tap water in terms of frequency and quantity. These researchers estimated that drinking bottled water exposes you to 3,569,000 microplastics every year and drinking tap water exposes you to 458,000 microplastics annually.

Of course, if you use a water filter to clean your tap water you can reduce your exposure even more. 

Water Filter For Microplastics

To reduce your exposure even more, use a good home water filter to remove microplastics from your tap water.

Here's omething to consider when choosing a water filter – One of the reasons bottled water has more micro/nanoplastics is because of the plastic bottle. So, do you really want to use a filtering system that is plastic?

I think that’s a hard pass.

Right now, stainless steel gravity water filters are the only countertop plastic-free water filters available.

I have used a Big Berkey for years.

When asked "Do Berkey water filters filter out microplastics?" they had this to say:

"The Black Berkey elements can reduce viruses down to the nanometer scale in the tested range of 24-26 nanometers. 24-26 nanometers is .024 to .026 microns…in other words, much smaller than the plastic particles being found in water.

Since the Berkey water filter black elements have been tested to remove viruses to the nanometer range, it suggests that contaminants much larger in size, such as plastic fibers should also be removed. However, since actual testing of plastic fibers has not yet been conducted, we cannot officially make that claim."

However, in 2023 the EPA cited the company who makes Berkey filters for not reporting that there was silver (considered a pesticide) in their filters and that their test data is outdated. 

Luckily, I found a great solution that allows me to use the stainless steel 'pitcher' but with different filters. I now use ceramic filters made by Coldstream that fit many types of stainless steel gravity filters systems.

Since the second thing to consider is the effectiveness of the filter in removing plastic particles, this filter has been verified to remove 99.9% of particle reduction class 1, including microplastics.

Particulate Class I is a rating for filters that can remove particles in water that are 0.5 to 1 micron in size. Besides microplastics, that level of filtration would also remove some nanoparticles.

So my best advice is to get any stainless steel Doulton (British Berkefeld), ProOne or Berkey system and use it with Coldstream ceramic filters. While it may seem like a big initial investment, stainless steel gravity filters are a one time purchase and Coldstream filters are rated to last a whole year.