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Scientists used a novel microscope technology to analyze bottled water — and they found an alarming amount of contaminants

"This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before."

"This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before."

Photo Credit: iStock

It seems the obsessive-compulsive TV detective Adrian Monk may have been right to be concerned about what's in the water that we drink. 

As the show's theme song goes, "It's a-ma-zing." 

As it turns out, alarming might be the better word for it, per a report from Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. Researchers used a new microscopic method to study the nanoplastics in popular bottled water brands. The findings suggest that every gulp we take may be introducing thousands of tiny particles into our bodies. 

"It's not size that matters. It's the numbers, because the smaller things are, the more easily they can get inside us," Columbia biophysicist Wei Min said in the university summary. 

What's happening? 

The breakthrough technique uses lasers to look for plastic particles. The researchers, including an expert from Rutgers, found that a liter of water could contain 240,000 "detectable" fragments. Astoundingly, that is 10 to 100 times more than what the experts thought would be there, per the research. 

The plastics being detected are particularly troublesome because of their size — pieces tinier than a micrometer. Columbia's team said that a human hair, for example, is 70 micrometers across.

Why is it important? 

Columbia notes that the particles can leach into our blood, brains, and hearts. 

Previous research found microplastics (larger than their nano counterparts) in the blood of 80% of people tested, the Guardian reported. The particles can enter the body through what we eat and drink, as well as through our skin, and as we breathe. How they impact us once inside our bodies warrants more analysis, the experts told the Associated Press. The endocrine system is one core-body process being studied. 

Columbia's lasers found polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic from which most bottles are made, and nylon. The experts said the latter may be introduced during the filtration process. 

Shockingly, the common plastics represented just 10% of the nanoparticles found in the water, while the rest couldn't be identified. If they prove to be nanoplastics, the experts said that means there might be "tens of millions per liter." More laser analysis needs to be completed to determine if the additional particles are natural organic matter. 

It's part of the "complicated particle composition inside the seemingly simple water sample," the researchers noted

How can I keep the plastics out? 

Smart, money-saving product use is a good starting point. Using reusable glass containers, particularly baby bottles, can help you to avoid plastics. Finding alternatives to single-use bags can also help cut down on the nearly 441 million tons of plastic waste we produce each year.  

Ditching single-use coffee pods and using powdered detergent are all ways to avoid plastic, while saving money, as well. 

Experts advise never microwaving plastic containers.

"Previously this was just a dark area, uncharted," study coauthor Beizhan Yan said in the Columbia report. "This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before."

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