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It might be time to invest in a reusable water bottle and stick with filtered tap water.
According to a new study published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, people who mostly drink from disposable plastic bottles of water are adding up to 90,000 plastic particles, or "microplastics," to their estimated annual total plastic intake, which—gross enough in itself—happens to average between 74,000 and 121,000 particles per year.
These particles, which are hard to avoid, are present in everything from fish and shellfish to added sugars, salts, alcohol and even air, as evidenced by 26 previous studies that the researchers used to assist with their study.
So, while we're bound to ingest these particles, chugging water in plastic bottles isn't helping to keep the amount down. It makes some sense, since the water is, you know, stored in plastic—and the question of whether plastic particles can negatively affect our health has been a concern for quite some time.
Still, the study isn't perfect: Because the researchers looked at only 15% of the average Americans' caloric intake, these values are likely underestimates, they explain. What's more, other researchers even weighed in to offer criticism, saying that more research is needed to fully understand what microplastics are and their effects on the body.
For instance, Professor Richard Lampitt, the leader of the microplastic research team at the National Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom, had issue with the lack of definition of the term "microplastic."
"Particle size is only mentioned in passing ... and yet this has a massive affect on the data presented and the conclusions reached," he told Science Media Centre. "Many of the studies on which the study's database is built will have failed to detect very small particles that some consider to be 'nanoplastics and outside of this present study.'"
Not everyone agrees that ingesting plastics is a cause for concern. For instance, Alastair Grant, professor of ecology at the University of East Anglia in the UK, told Science Media Centre that "No evidence is presented that these rates of consumption are a significant danger to human health." Grant also noted that, while more than half the estimate includes particles that are inhaled, the research does "not take into account the systems that our bodies have to remove particles from the air that we breathe."
It may take a while to determine the long-term effects of plastic in the body, but in the meantime, if you are interested in keeping as much as possible out of your system, it wouldn't hurt to swap a plastic bottle for a glass or stainless steel reusable bottle. (And it's better for the environment, anyway!)