Swimming with a Bottle of Water

Should We Care That We’re Drinking Nanoplastics?

A new study this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science tells us that every bottle of water we’re drinking has hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics.

Should we care?

A Blank Slate, Tough to Study

This study is important simply because it fills a void in knowledge about how much these nanoplastics are coming into our lives. Naixin Qian and colleagues developed a powerful optical imaging technique for analyzing nanoplastics with sensitivity and specificity. They see this work as merely a start for further work that will be essential for understanding the implications of nanoplastics all around us:

“We envision that the data-driven hyperspectral SRS imaging platform will continue bridging the gap of knowledge on plastic pollution at the nano level with an expanded spectral library to study more complicated biological and environmental samples.”

Reason for Concern

The simple fact is that we are filling the world, and especially our oceans, with plastics. Humans produce 430 million tonnes of the stuff every year and most of it quickly becomes waste.

Nanoplastics and microplastics are not innocuous, but their risks are poorly understood. They come with chemicals that can be endocrine disruptors and contribute to obesity. Moreover, the nanoplastic particles can penetrate our cells and exert their own effects.

In a recent review, Ajmal Khan and Zhenquan Jia concluded:

“Microplastics and nanoplastics can be toxic to nearly every organ system (for example, the reproductive, respiratory, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems).”

The phrase to watch here is can be. The state of knowledge about health effects is limited, but we know enough to think more caution about filling the water and air with these particles would be wise.

Click here for the Qian study and here for the review by Khan and Jia. For further perspective, click here, here, and here.

Swimming with a Bottle of Water, photograph by Zeynel Cebeci, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 13, 2024