A New Study Aimed to Find Out Whether We Should Drink Water from a Bottle Sitting in the Sun. It’s Not Good News

We’ve all had that moment of doubt, but until now, no one could tell us with certainty whether it was a good idea or not.

A new study finds an answer about drinking water from a bottle exposed to the sun, and it’s not good news
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If you own a car, the following scene will no doubt ring some bells. A person reaches for a bottle of water that has been in their vehicle for days, exposed to the sun, because it’s the only thing they have nearby to quench their thirst. But then they ask themselves: Should I drink from the plastic bottle? Would taking a sip of water be harmful? A new study claims to have an answer.

Step away from that bottle. In a paper published by a team at Jinan University in China, scientists have determined that recycling plastic bottles in this situations is best unless you find it “enjoyable” to guzzle a mixture of potentially toxic chemicals. Apparently, exposure to the Sun not only degrades the bottle itself but also liberates various toxins.

The key: VOCs. The researchers explain that the plastic bottle’s prolonged exposure to the Sun’s rays lead it to eventually emit various chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals evaporate quickly at room temperature and can be found everywhere, from fuels and solvents to paints oand cleaning products.

And not only that. They’re also in plastics, such as those used to make water bottles and food packaging. While many of these compounds may be harmless, others can have short and long-term health effects.

How plastic bottles release toxins when exposed to the sun

The study. Scientists exposed up to six types of plastic water bottles to ultraviolet A radiation and sunlight. They found that the process emitted a complex mixture of VOCs, including alkanes, alkenes, alcohols, aldehydes, and acids. In fact, the paper states that there was some evidence of “highly toxic” VOCs, including carcinogens like n-hexadecane.

Researchers tested polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, one of the most widely used plastics. However, there was significant variation in the composition and concentration of VOCs among the bottles. The reason appears to be related to different manufacturing processes and additives. They also pointed to the possibility that the release of chemicals from the bottle is due to a process known as photodegradation, where the structure of the plastic breaks down in response to light.

How dangerous is it? The study distinguished between hazardous levels. If the sip of contaminated water is minimal, the danger is very low, but prolonged exposure is potentially associated with a significant health risks. According to lead author Huase Ou, “The results provide compelling evidence that plastic bottles may release toxic compounds that pose health risks when exposed to sunlight.”

Moreover, the researcher believes consumers need to be vigilant: “People should be aware of these risks, especially in environments where bottled water is exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time,” he explains.

The risk from a small bottle. According to the study, a bottle of less than half a liter of water represents a minimal risk because the amount of chemicals released is relatively small. “Considering the average weight of a container (approximately 20 g), the amount of VOCs volatilized from a single container was only a few nanograms,” the researchers said.

Therefore, even after prolonged exposure, “Opening and consuming water from a bottled container poses minimal health risks to humans,” they conclude.

It’s not just the Sun’s rays. When we talk about plastic bottles and degradation, it's not just the that sun has an impact. Another study has found that leaving water in a plastic bottle for just one day can release hundreds of chemicals into the drink. Experts believe that some of these substances have potentially harmful health effects, including carcinogens or endocrine disruptors.

Another study found that bottle warming can have downstream effects. This investigation states that baby bottles release between 1 and 16 million microplastic particles per liter during sterilization process recommended by leading health agencies.

Images | PXHere | Picryl | Eco-Environment & Health (2024)

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