March 15 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization will take a closer look at the risks of plastic particles in bottled drinking water, following a study on the subject that found the material in a number of water brands.
The study conducted by Orb Media analyzed 259 bottles of water from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 brands. Out of the tested, only 17 were free of plastics -- and some had particle counts ranging into the hundreds or thousands.
Polypropylene was found to be the most common type of plastic fragment found, which is the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps.
Scott Belcher, a research professor at North Carolina State University, said chemicals from plastics are constantly ingested by humans.
"We generally assume the water bottle holding that pure spring water, the microwave-safe plastic bowl we prepare our meals in, or the Styrofoam cup holding a hot drink is there protecting our food and drinks, Belcher said. "Rather than acting as a completely inert barrier, these plastics are breaking down and leaching chemicals ... flame retardants, and even toxic heavy metals that are all absorbed into our diets and bodies."
According to the Orb Media study, researchers using a dye to identify floating pieces of plastic found an average of 10 particles per liter of water, each larger than the size of a human hair. Smaller particles that could have been plastic were also found, with an average of 314 per liter.
"Plastic is all but indestructible, meaning plastic waste doesn't biodegrade; rather, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, even down to particles in nanometer scale - one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter," according to the report. "Studies show particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs."
The WHO told BBC News it wants to determine if micro-plastics can undermine human health.
"We need to understand if these things are dangerous, and if they occur in water at concentrations that are dangerous," WHO coordinator Bruce Gordon said.
The Orb Media investigation played a factor in the WHO's decision to review plastics in drinking water.
"The public are obviously going to be concerned about whether this is going to make them sick in the short term and the long term," Gordon said.
"Since the problem of plastic was created exclusively by human beings through our indifference, it can be solved by human beings by paying attention to it," said Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in the report. "Now what we need is a determination to get it done - before it gets us."