IBWA responds to new nanoparticle imaging study

International Bottled Water Association | Media Statement | January 8, 2024

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has had very limited notice and time to review this new study closely and therefore, we cannot provide a detailed response at this time.

This new study by Columbia University researchers Qian, et. al, used bottled water to apparently demonstrate a new method for nanoplastics analysis due to a lack of currently available methods. This new method needs to be fully reviewed by the scientific community and more research needs to be done to develop standardized methods for measuring and quantifying nanoplastics in our environment.  

There currently is both a lack of standardized methods and no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of nano- and microplastic particles. Therefore, media reports about these particles in drinking water do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers. 

Nanoplastics has joined microplastics as a topic garnering a lot of attention from the media. While many of the studies on microplastics (and now nanoparticles) have mentioned bottled water, it is important to note that bottled water is just one of thousands of food and beverage products packaged in plastic containers. Moreover, and perhaps even more important, nano- and microplastic particles are found in all aspects of our environment – soil, air, and water. For more information about why researchers use water to explore testing methods, see the second cited research study below by Ossmann, B. E. (https://doi.org/10.1016/J.COFS.2021.02.011)

After reviewing the available studies concerning water, food, and beverages, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that no adverse health effects could be drawn from dietary exposure to nano- and microplastic particles less than 10 microns due to minimal scientific research. WHO’s recommendation is for more research to be conducted, as well as establishing standardized methods for measuring and quantifying nano and microplastics. (Source: “Dietary and inhalation exposure to nano- and microplastic particles and potential implications for human health.” Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/362049/9789240054608-eng.pdf.)

Because there is no scientific evidence to suggest that nano- and microplastic particles pose a health risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not issued any regulations concerning these substances in foods and beverages. Any regulatory action concerning nano- and microplastic particles would need to be based on sound science, including demonstrating a correlation between the levels of this substance found in foods and beverages and any potential adverse health effects.

Bottled water, as a packaged food product, is strictly and comprehensively regulated by FDA. All bottled water products are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.

As always, the bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products and we are following any scientific developments on this subject closely.

Background Studies

  1. “Development and application of a health-based framework for informing regulatory action in relation to exposure of microplastic particles in California drinking water.” Microplastics and Nanoplastics 2022 2:1, 2(1), 1–30. https://doi.org/10.1186/S43591-022-00030-6  

    This publication discusses the outcome of a virtual expert workshop conducted between October 2020 and October 2021 in which a comprehensive review of mammalian hazard studies was conducted. A key objective of this assessment was to evaluate the feasibility and confidence in deriving a human health-based threshold value to inform development of the State of California’s monitoring and management strategy for microplastics in drinking water.:

    Abstract: “… While it was possible to derive a conservative screening level to inform monitoring activities, it was not possible to extrapolate a human–health-based threshold value for microplastics, which is largely due to concerns regarding the relative quality and reliability of current data, but also due to the inability to extrapolate data from studies using monodisperse plastic particles, such as polystyrene spheres to an environmentally relevant exposure of microplastics.”

  2. “Microplastics in drinking water? Present state of knowledge and open questions,” by Ossmann, B. E. (2021), published in Current Opinion in Food Science41, 44–51 (https://doi.org/10.1016/J.COFS.2021.02.011)— discusses why researchers use water to develop their testing methods suggesting that water is the easiest food matrix to analyze.

    “However, by the use of various analytical methods with different reliability of the produced results, it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare the results. The same applies to the studies on MPs [microplastics] in other food, on which studies are still rare. Thus, classifying the results in an overall context is complicated. Compared to other foodstuff, obviously more studies have been published on MPs in drinking water. This fact is not implicitly related to the abundance and relevance of MPs in drinking water, but to the fact that water is the simplest food matrix to analyze for MPs. Consequently, estimations of the total intake of MPs by humans based on the available results should be made with care. Especially conclusions that drinking water may represent one major route for the oral intake of MPs are not justified.

    This study also raised caution regarding any study’s analytical methods:
    Studies on MPs using analytical methods, which are not acknowledged, should no longer be published. Furthermore, scientists and ideally journalists should have a critical look on applied methods before trusting in the results of studies. Instead, harmonized methods for the reliable quantification of MPs in drinking water and other food should be developed and defined. These must at least allow for a clear identification of MPs and should include the smallest reachable size class, since if not, MP amounts might be underestimated. Furthermore, adequate measures to avoid and control sample contamination must be applied. This is the only way to determine the actual total MP intake by humans and consequently, to assess potential risks associated with it.”


Media contact:
Jill Culora
IBWA Vice President of Communications