Media outlets across the globe recently reported on the disquieting news that most commercial bottled water contains microscopic bits of plastic. According to a study released last month, researchers at the State University of New York at Fredonia looked at 259 bottles of water from 11 producers, including such well-known brands like Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestle Pure Life and San Pellegrino.
Results showed that 93% of bottled water tested had some signs of microplastic contamination. Samples contained an average of 10.4 polymer particles larger than 100 µm per liter; and an average of 325 smaller microplastic particles sized 6.5 to 100 µm per liter. Overall, the data suggest contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and the bottling process itself.
While experts generally feel that a small amount of microplastic is not cause for alarm, and the water meets current standards for drinking water, the findings of plastic in bottled water are nonetheless raising concerns. In response, the World Health Organization announced it will review the potential risks of plastic in drinking water, and assess the latest research into the spread and impact of microplastic particles that can be ingested.
To help ease fears in the beverage and packaging industries, engineers with the food and beverage filtration team at Parker Hannifin’s Bioscience Div. published an informative overview, “3 Microfiltration Processes that Reduce Microplastics in Bottled Water.”
According to Parker Bioscience, microplastic contamination is likely due to contamination of water prior to bottling, or the bottling process itself, highlighting an evident need for microplastic control of both the product and the packaging process. Particles found by researchers at SUNY Fredonia were >6.5 µm in size. Microfiltration products for the food and beverage industry offered by Parker Bioscience have the capacity to filter particulates down to 0.2 µm and, therefore, have the potential to eliminate nearly all microplastics from bottled water through implementation of filtration into production and packaging processes.
The Parker report notes that filtration applications in bottled water production include:
Microfiltration of drinking water. Prefiltration cartridges from Parker Bioscience can remove visible particulates from drinking water, ensuring clear and visually appealing water. In addition, microfiltration of drinking water removes particulates down to a sub-micron level, including microplastics and microorganisms which aren’t visible to the naked eye. This process ensures the bottled water is contaminant-free prior to packaging.
In fact, Parker Bioscience offers a range of microfiltration solutions for the bottled water industry, from clarification of natural mineral water to remove suspended fine particulates while maintaining its microbiological and chemical composition, down to the sterile filtration of filtered water which involves the elimination of all particulates including colloids and bacteria as small as 0.2 µm.
Microfiltration of compressed gas used for bottle shaping. Scientists conducting the research found that 4% of particles larger than 100 µm showed the presence of industrial lubricants. It is likely these industrial lubricants are a consequence of aerosols found in unfiltered compressed air or pressurized gas, which is used to “blow” the bottles into their required shapes. Microfiltration of compressed air removes atmospheric dust, moisture, industrial lubricants and other contaminants which, in turn, removes the risk of these particles contaminating the product.
Contaminants in compressed air can also pose significant issue for the overall manufacturing process. In addition to product impairment, contamination in the compressed air system can lead to corrosion within storage vessels and the distribution system; damaged production equipment; blocked or frozen valves, cylinders, air motors and tools; and premature desiccant changes for adsorption dryers. Ultimately, the bottom line is inefficient processes, lower production efficiency and higher manufacturing costs. Permitting contamination to exhaust from valves can also create an unhealthy working environment, according to Parker.
Microfiltration of water used to wash bottles. The results of the research highlighted that the 54% of polymers present in the water were polypropylene—a common plastic used for bottle caps—leading researchers to conclude contamination is at least partly due to the bottling process. Producers can avoid the contamination of drinking water with these microplastics by thoroughly washing plastic bottles with contaminant-free water prior to bottling. This process will remove any particulates within the bottle, which may have consequentially became suspended in the product and ingested by the consumer.
Microfiltration cartridges offered by Parker Bioscience can help solve the problems related to microplastic contamination of bottled water, a current disruptive issue within the bottled water industry, said the authors. Microfiltration of microplastics may not only protect the consumer’s health but reinforce consumer confidence in the bottled water brand itself.
Parker Hannifin’s Bioscience Division