BOTTLES OF WATER. Bottled water is not as pure as we think. In any case, this is what the microplastics found in the water bottles of the main French brands suggest. What are they ?
[Mis à jour le 21 juillet 2022 à 12h08] It is a shocking study that came out in July 2022. According to the latter, 78% of the water bottles analyzed in this survey include plastic microparticles. The NGO Acting for the environment is at the origin of these revelations. The major groups in the water sector may tremble, especially since the names of the companies concerned by this investigation have been communicated. The bad students are Vittel, Perrier, Evian, Cristaline and Badoit. Indeed, according to the study, their bottles contain microparticles, up to one to seven microparticles per litre. On the other hand, Volvic and Carrefour would be irreproachable at this level. The NGO explains this notable difference: “Each manufacturer has its own composition, it can use dozens of different substances as additives.”
The environmental association, known for its commitment against the massive production of plastic, commissioned a study from the Breton laboratory Labocéa. The aim was to count and analyze the presence of plastic fragments, known as “microplastics”, in nine of the most sold mineral water bottles in France. In total, seven of them contained these particles, which are mostly plastic fragments that make up the bottles and caps, namely polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene. These microplastics are particles of size less than 5mm and can be up to 1 micrometer. The big question for scientists at the moment is to understand how they could have ended up in our water. As explained to Parisian Magali Ringoot, coordinator of the association’s health-environment campaigns, “contamination can come from the packaging or the bottling process”. It is therefore likely that when the cap is uncorked, “small plastic micro-debris” will come off. We take stock of the brands concerned and the dangers that these particles can present to health.
In the Labocéa laboratory study, seven out of nine water bottles were identified as containing significant doses of microplastics. What are these bottles that were purchased at the store for the study?
- Badoit (small size – 33cl)
- Badoit (large format – 1.5 liters)
The only survivors are Volvic and Montclar, from the Carrefour distributor: no trace of these particles was found there. The worst ranked is Vittel Kids, a 33cl bottle of still water intended for children, for which the analyzes reported forty microplastics for only 33 centilitres of water… Which corresponds to approximately 120 per litre. According to Magali Ringoot, campaign coordinator for Agir pour l’environnement, “it is when opening that small plastic micro-debris come off”. For the other bottles, we are between one and eight microplastics per liter.
“We buy water, we think it is pure, better for our health, better for our children. But we realize that it is not”, lamented Nathalie Gontard, specialist in the subject at INRAE. The real question raised by these first analyzes is that of the real consequences of these microplastics on human health. These figures, already alarming, could represent only a minimal part of the total microplastics present; at least that is what the environmental association fears, which, through its director general Stephen Kerckhove, recalls: “What we have found is the minimum of the minimum”. In reality, this analysis may have missed “a considerable number of particles that a consumer will ingest” since these bottles “have not been stored or exposed to heat or light, and that the caps have not been opened several times or chewed by children”, he detailed. The crux of the problem lies in the absorption of these particles in the body, insofar as it is not certain that they actually degrade. “Our body is not equipped to get rid of it. Our enzymes will absolutely not attack this plastic which will last until our death. And then it will create imbalances, such as cell destruction” advanced the scientist Nathalie Gontard, member of the Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, during her visit to RMC.
However, for now, it appears too early to draw conclusions from these findings. On the one hand because the study has no real scientific value insofar as only one bottle of each brand was analyzed: according to Eric Laporte, the director of the laboratory commissioned by Agir pour l’environnement, to obtain figures or reliable trends, “it would be necessary to carry out at least triplicates on different batches, by comparing identical volumes”. In addition, the health and scientific aspect of these plastic microparticles is still poorly understood, because there are few certified studies on the subject, as evidenced by the declaration of the representative of the main union of French ore workers: “Our sector is working on it, but without a reference method, we cannot produce a reliable study on this subject.” (words reported by Le Parisien). Without scientific consensus or method of measuring these particles in water, the question of the impact on health remains unanswered. To qualify this uncertainty, however, we can cite the famous study conducted in 2018 by American scientists and published on the Frontiers in Chemistry website: it revealed the presence of microplastics in the bottled water of many brands around the world, with precisely 93% of the water samples from 259 different bottles being contaminated.
For its part, the NGO which launched the alert believes that these findings should already trigger the precautionary principle. Indeed, to avoid further production of these particles, which are still poorly known and potentially harmful to health, it pleads for the banning of plastic bottles within the next five years. More specifically, it asks manufacturers to replace them with glass bottles or by selling them in bulk. In addition, Agir pour l’environnement is concerned about the abundant advertising – always rewarding – made around these brands. This is particularly explained by Magali Ringoot, coordinator of the association’s health-environment campaigns for the case of the Vittel Kids bottle: “It worries us particularly, because children are targeted by the marketing of this bottle”.
But, on the side of the brands in question, we deny for the moment the potentiality of the presence of plastic particles harmful to health in these bottles: “The publication is very anxiety-provoking for the consumer when there is no of fear to have vis-à-vis our products”, defended Marie-Ange Badin, the general delegate of the Maison union of natural mineral waters. “Mineral water is one of the most controlled consumer goods today, whether internally or by laboratories approved by regional health agencies: the water must be pure, natural, and unpolluted”, added she argued.