A hazard, even in bottled water

A hazard, even in bottled water

A hazard, even in bottled water

Multiple studies  have found that a large proportion of microplastic particles in our oceans, lakes and rivers can be traced back to the washing of synthetic clothes. In one of the largest investigations of its kind, researchers at the State University of New York recently tested bottled water from the world's major brands sold in nine countries, including India, and found them all to contain tiny particles of plastic, each no larger than the width of human hair. The discovery that plastic pollution has become so pervasive as to contaminate even water that is specially treated and packaged in plastic bottles the world over as safe drinking water is cause for concern. According to the European Food Safety Authority, as much as 90% of ingested plastic could pass through a human body, but some of it could get lodged in the gut, the intestinal wall, or enter the blood stream and eventually get into the kidney or liver.

Over 2.1 billion people worldwide lack easy access to a source of clean water. For them, bottled water is a necessary evil. In fact, WHO and other health organisations have recommended use of bottled water in developing countries, including India. As a result, the bottled water industry has emerged as one of the fastest growing sectors. The discovery of microplastics in bottled water, therefore, raises many questions about its potential long-term implications for public health. Though the companies whose brands were tested in the latest study have claimed that their bottling plants are operated to the highest standards, the findings call for further research and a review of regulatory mechanisms in place to oversee the working of the industry.

This is most important in the case of the bottled water industry in India, where the demand for bottled water is growing at a much faster rate than that for carbonated drinks. In the last five years alone, the industry has more than doubled in worth to Rs 16,000 crore. Yet, it remains a loosely regulated industry with hundreds of big and small brands vying for a share of the metro and small-town markets. According to information made available to Parliament during its recent session, a survey of packaged water units by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) during 2016-17 revealed that three out 10 units of so-called mineral water sold in the country were not conforming to Indian safety standards. This should be a cause of concern, given the potential impact on public health. Immediate action to clean up the bottled water we drink is called for.  

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