SINGAPORE: Samples of bottled drinking water in Singapore tested by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) as part of routine laboratory tests meet its safety standards, it told Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Mar 16).
AVA said it routinely takes samples of bottled drinking water for laboratory testing to ensure compliance with food safety standards.
Those that fail its inspection and laboratory tests will not be allowed for sale.
So far, laboratory results have shown that the bottled water used in Singapore meet its safety standards, said AVA.
AVA's comments were made in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia after results from a study published on Wednesday showed “widespread contamination” of tiny plastic particles in several of the world’s major brands of bottled water.
The study was commissioned by Orb Media, a US-based non-profit media collective.
Researchers had tested more than 250 bottles of water across 11 brands sold in nine countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand.
The results showed that 93 per cent of the samples had “some sign of microplastic contamination”.
Singapore was not one of the test markets, but several of the brands tested and found to have tiny particles of plastic are available here.
Among them are Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Danone’s Aqua and Evian, which together accounted for about 39 per cent of bottled water sold in Singapore in 2015, according to data from Euromonitor International.
Elaborating on its surveillance of bottled water, AVA said it adopts a “risk-based approach in ensuring food safety”.
“Food available in our market, including bottled water, are subjected to inspection, sampling and surveillance to ensure compliance with our food safety standards and requirements.
“For imported packaged/bottled mineral and drinking water, every imported consignment must be accompanied with a certificate of analysis to indicate that the product is safe for consumption. For new brands, licensed importers must also submit a certificate of authenticity for the source.”
Meanwhile, for locally packaged or bottled drinking water, licensed manufacturers are subjected to regular inspections to ensure the adherence of good manufacturing practices, AVA added.
In its reply to Channel NewsAsia, AVA noted that while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is aware of microplastics being “an emerging area of concern”, there is no evidence that microplastics have an impact on human health.
“As such, WHO will conduct an assessment to investigate the potential health risk of microplastics in drinking water.
“Other agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and Food and Agriculture Organisation also noted more scientific evidence would be needed for such an assessment.”
AVA said it will continue to monitor international scientific developments on the issue of microplastics and conduct its own risk assessment.
“We will implement appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our consumers when necessary,” it added.
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When contacted, bottled water brands said that they disagreed with the study's findings, and that their bottling plants adhered to high quality and food safety standards.
Danone said that it was“not in a position to comment” about the study given that “some aspects of the testing methodology used remain unclear”. It also cited a different study published last year by German researchers that found “no statistically relevant amount of microplastic” in single-use plastic bottles.
The French multinational food product company added that microplastic is an “emerging issue” and that there is “no applicable regulatory framework or scientific consensus" for "testing methodology or potential impacts of microplastic particles which could be found in any bottling environment”.
When asked about the production and packaging base for its bottled water sold in Singapore, Danone said that all of its water “are sourced and bottled in their country of origin”, and that its bottling process “respects the highest hygiene, quality and food safety standards."
Coca-Cola told Channel NewsAsia that all of its Dasani products sold in Singapore are packaged in and imported from Malaysia. “They comply fully with all laws and regulations in Singapore, including the Sale of Food Act.”
The spokesperson added that the company stands by the safety of its products and welcomes continued study of plastics.
“We have some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry, and the water we use in our drinks is subject to multi-step filtration processes prior to production,” Coca-Cola said in an emailed response.
“As Orb Media’s own reporting has shown, microscopic plastic fibers appear to be ubiquitous, and therefore may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products."
Over at Nestle, its spokesperson said in an emailed response: “To date, we have not found microplastics in our bottled water products beyond trace level”.
The Swiss food and beverage giant added that its bottled water products, such as locally-available brands San Pellegrino and Nestle Pure Life, are tested for the presence of microplastics using “state-of-the-art devices and techniques”. “We assure consumers that our bottled waters are safe to drink."
Meanwhile, PepsiCo said its brand Aquafina “maintains rigorous quality control measures, sanitary manufacturing practices, filtration and other food safety mechanisms which yield a reliably safe product”. Aquafina is not available in Singapore at the moment.
The study has drawn stern remarks from the International Bottled Water Association, which said that it was “non-peer reviewed” and "not based on sound science”.
To that, the study’s lead researcher Sherri Mason from the State University of New York said the methodology used was “simple” and “very clearly stated” on the report.
She referred to how the screening for plastic involved the addition of a fluorescent dye into the bottles of water. This dye, called Nile Red, sticks to free-floating plastic pieces and makes them visible under certain wavelengths of light.
After filtering the dyed samples, researchers counted the pieces that were larger than 100 microns. Those smaller than 100 microns were counted using a technique developed by a former astrophysicist to calculate the number of stars in the night sky.
“I don't think it can get any simpler than that, so this idea that it’s a complicated and unclear methodology is not based on reality,” Prof Mason told Channel NewsAsia. “This is a very sound scientific study and I stand by it.”
Following the release of the report, the WHO told the BBC on Thursday that it will launch a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.
Prof Mason described that as an unexpected but “pleasant surprise”. She added that she hoped the study would get consumers “to re-think” habits involving single-use plastic.
“Something as simple as drinking tap water, as opposed to bottled water, can have a huge impact on your personal exposure to plastic, which permeates our lives with other habits like the use of plastic bags, straws and food wrappers. Yet, we don't understand the implications of that.”