What We Know About Microplastics in Drinking Water
Recent scientific studies have discovered microplastics in drinking water, as well as freshwater sources.
This most recent study conducted in May 2019 analysed multiple water sources. Including river and lake water, groundwater, tap water, and bottled drinking water.
However, this is not the only data that has revealed the extent of the microplastic problem.
In 2018 The World Health Organisation launched a major investigation into bottled water. Researchers discovered that 90% of bottled water contained microplastics.
259 bottles of water from 19 locations in nine counties were found to have an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.
The most common type of plastic fragment found in the bottles of water was polypropylene. The same type of plastic used to make bottle caps.
But if you switch to tap water you may be shocked to hear that you would still be at risk.
A previous study on microplastics discovered a high level of plastic in tap water. 83 percent of the samples used for the research were contaminated with plastic fibres.
These studies all point to a reality that we are all consuming microplastics in one form or another.
To support you in understanding more about this area of plastic pollution, here are the biggest questions on microplastics.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny, water-insoluble, solid polymer particles that are less than 5mm in size.
They cannot be detected by the human eye and can only be seen through a microscope.
As small pieces of plastic debris, they are the result of the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste.
Microplastics can come from obvious sources such as clothing fibres and carpets. For example, one study found that each cycle of a washing machine could release up to 700,000 plastic fibres into the environment.
Washing clothes has been identified as a major contributor to microplastics entering the natural environment. However, further studies are still ongoing to identify all contributing factors.
Other forms of microplastics include debris from single-use plastics such as plastic bags and straws. As well as tiny plastic pieces found in beauty products such as microbeads.
How do microplastics get into our drinking water?
Many of us may already be aware that microplastics could be entering our body through contaminated seafood. But when it comes to our drinking water, the case for microplastics is still under investigation.
It’s estimated that the average person could be ingesting up to 100,000 pieces, or 250g of microplastics per year.
A study conducted by the Environmental Science and Technology journal looked at the consumption of food and drink. Assessing microplastics found in beer, salt, seafood, sugar, alcohol, and honey.
Microplastics were found in the fecal matter of eight participants who took part in this study.
However, the studies on microplastics in drinking water are still ongoing.
Many researchers believe it is a combination of fibres coming from our clothes and plastic packaging. However, there is no current clear evidence that points to a key culprit.
During an investigation by the BBC on microplastics, many drinks manufacturers admitted that controlling microplastics was a challenge.
Coca-Cola told the BBC that even in highly treated products there may be minute levels of microplastics. Although Coca-Cola has strict filtration methods in place, they acknowledge the presence of plastics in the environment makes it a challenge to fully control.
Unfortunately, many drinks manufacturers refused to comment on the research. With several brands claiming that the study into microplastics is still in its infancy.
What are the health impacts of microplastics?
The previous studies carried out on microplastics have largely been focused on plastic pollution in the oceans. This has revealed that people are eating microplastics through contaminated seafood.
However, with new light shed on the inclusion of microplastics in drinking water, there is fresh concern over health.
Plastic pollution continues to be a critical concern for the environment. Yet few studies have focussed on the impact on human health.
Scientists still aren’t sure on the amount of microplastics a human body can tolerate, or how much damage it may do.
One study published in 2017 by King’s College London hypothesised around the impact microplastics could have.
They predict that over time, the effect of ingesting plastic could be toxic to our health. Predominantly due to the fact that plastics contain different types of toxic properties.
For example, some plastics are made with chlorine, and others contain lead.
Unless our body adapts to the consumption of plastic, there may be unforeseen impacts on our immune system.
Further research carried out from Johns Hopkins looked at the impact of eating seafood contaminated with microplastics. They too discovered that the accumulated plastic could upset a gut’s balance.
The real impact on our future health is still unknown and continues to be a topic scientists investigate.
However, as many scientists have commented. Those who have more exposure or pre-existing conditions may be less able to tolerate plastic.
What can we do to reduce microplastic consumption?
A plastic-free diet appears to be an obvious option when you don’t want to digest microplastics.
But the truth is, we are ingesting them already without being fully aware.
We might consume microplastics in the seafood we eat, the air we breathe, or the water from our taps.
However, there are ways we can begin to combat the problem. Reducing the plastics we use initially is where it has to begin.
As individuals, we can take action by making more conscious consumer choices. This includes buying less plastic, reducing meat consumption and avoiding tumble dryers.
Drinking filtered water can help to reduce the amount of microplastics you drink. And seeking out foods that are not covered in plastic.
As a society, we can also take more action to reduce the plastic that enters the environment.
Participating in local clean-ups and litter picking, as well as encouraging and educating others to go plastic-free.
Microplastics will not be an issue that goes away quickly, and studies are continuing to reveal the extent of the impact.
But until then, it is down to each of us to make better choices to reduce single-use plastic.
Recent scientific studies have discovered microplastics in drinking water, as well as freshwater sources. This most recent study conducted in May