Beware of Microplastics in Your Bottled Mineral Water

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - As it turns out, bottled mineral waters which are widely available anywhere and everywhere, contains microplastics. The research revealing that fact was conducted by the State University of New York at Fredonia, which was supported by US-based non-profit media organization Orb Media.

    The result of this eye-opening research was published simultaneously in 12 worldwide news media on Thursday, March 15, and Tempo was one of the ones included, and the only Indonesian media granted the access to publish the research as an exclusive piece.

    Worldwide news media outlets that were granted the access include the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and CBC.

    A State University of New York at Fredonia researcher tested 259 bottled water from 11 brands that are currently sold in eight countries. Results show that 93 percent of them that were sampled contained microplastics. As one of the countries with the largest bottled water market, Indonesian bottled water products were also tested.

    30 Aqua-branded bottled waters were purchased in Jakarta, Bali, and Medan, which was then flown to New York in November of 2017. The samples were then tested by a team at the University of New York at Fredonia led by Sherri A. Mason, Victoria Welch, and Joseph Nerako.

    Surprisingly, each Aqua bottled water that was tested contained in average 382 microplastic particles per liter with varying amounts from 6.5 micrometer, which is equivalent to a red blood cell, up to 100 micrometers, equivalent to the diameter of a human hair.

    The largest amount of microplastic in a single Aqua sample reached 4,713 microplastic particles per liter of water. However, the largest amount of microplastic content globally was found in the Nestle Pure Life bottled water that amounted to 10,390 microplastic particles per liter.

    Tempo, partnering with University of Indonesia’s (UI) chemistry lab, also conducted an independent test to confirm the State University of New York at Fredonia’s findings. We also tested bottled waters from other brands to balance it out, the two other brands were Le Minerale and Club.

    We purchased nine 600ml bottled-waters from three brands mentioned above from various sources such as minimarts, kiosks, and sidewalk vendors. The Indonesian research was led by Head of Laboratory Agustinos Zulys.

    Unsurprisingly, we discovered that the samples contained microplastics in varying sizes starting from 11 up to 247 micrometers.

    Responding to the surprising findings, a toxicology expert from UI Budiawan explained that particles that have the same size or are smaller than an average human blood cell that is measured to be 8 micrometers introduce a health risk since the particles can be absorbed and can enter the blood flow.

    Other than that, vital organs such as the human kidneys and liver can get afflicted by the accumulation of consuming these microplastics. “The accumulation can happen it the body does not naturally release the foreign particles through excretion,” said Budiawan at his office on Tuesday, March 13.

    Nutritionist Tan Shot Yen said that the potential danger presented by microplastics indigestion are far too real since it can easily be absorbed by the organs in our body. Tan reasoned that a thorough research on the effects of microplastic exposure is still limited, however, Tan referred to one of the research conducted by the United States’ National Center for Biotechnology Information that studied effects of microplastic particles towards planktons in tainted oceans.

    “The worst effect is that it has a negative effect towards growth and reproduction. And of course, if it releases free radicles, the risk of developing cancer cannot be avoided,” said Tan.

    The research that Tempo and Orb Media conducted cannot entirely reveal the source of these microplastic particles, whether it came from the water source or during its packaging process. However, Orb Media found that one of the microplastics was detected to be polypropylene, which is commonly found in bottle caps.

    PT Mayora Indah Head of Communication Sribugo Suratmo chose not to comment further regarding the microplastic particles that were found to be contained in one of the Club bottled waters that the company produced.

    “I am not aware of its contents,” he said.

    Meanwhile, according to Stefanus Indrayana, Indofood Sukses Makmur Corporate Communication General Manager that produces Le Minerale, handed over the right to respond to the Indonesian Association of Bottled Drinking Water Companies (Aspadin).

    Danone Indonesia Communications Director Arif Mujahidin explained that the bottling process that the company applies had always complied with the highest standard of food hygiene, quality, and safety. Arif also requested that tempo confirmed the findings to Aspadin.

    Aspadin Chairman Rachmat Hidayat said that there has been no scientific consensus so far that explains the effects of microplastic towards human health. He said that every company joined in an association must meet the national standards of quality required by the government. “However, we will continue to monitor the reporting of the findings,” said Rachmat.