U.S – Researchers from Columbia University have delved into the microscopic world of nanoplastics, uncovering alarming levels of these minuscule particles in bottled water.

Using cutting-edge technology, the study exposed an average of 240,000 detectable plastic fragments per liter—10 to 100 times higher than previous estimates based on larger sizes.

Nanoplastics, the offspring of microplastics, are so tiny that they can bypass the body’s natural defenses, infiltrating the bloodstream and traveling to vital organs such as the heart and brain.

Unlike their larger counterparts, nanoplastics can even traverse the placenta, posing potential risks to unborn babies. This revelation has sparked a race among medical scientists to explore the unknown effects on various biological systems.

Lead author of the study, Naixin Qian, a Columbia graduate student in chemistry, explained that this research opens a window into an uncharted territory, allowing scientists to investigate a world previously concealed from scrutiny.

The poorly understood realm of nanoplastics has been a dark area, with toxicity studies relying on speculation rather than concrete evidence.

With global plastic production reaching 400 million metric tons annually, and over 30 million tons being dumped into water or on land each year, the prevalence of nanoplastics raises concerns about their potential impact on both the environment and human health.

Most plastics do not break down into benign substances; instead, they continually fragment into smaller particles, with no theoretical limit to how small they can get.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, utilized stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, a technique that allowed researchers to identify seven common plastics and create a data-driven algorithm to interpret the results.

Surprisingly, the study found that the seven identified plastic types accounted for only about 10% of the nanoplastics found in the samples, leaving researchers puzzled about the composition of the remaining particles.

Beyond the realms of bottled water, researchers are extending their investigation to tap water, microplastics generated during laundry, and even particles found in snow collected from western Antarctica.

Collaborating with environmental health experts, the team aims to measure nanoplastics in various human tissues, shedding light on their developmental and neurologic effects.

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