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Microplastic pollution has been discovered in tap water in nations all around the world, prompting scientists to demand for immediate investigation into the health consequences.
Scientists analyzed hundreds of tap water samples from more than a dozen countries for research by Orb Media, which shared the findings with the Guardian. Plastic fibers were found in 83% of the samples tested.
Plastic fibers were identified in tap water examined at locations including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s offices, and Trump Tower in New York, with the US having the highest contamination rate (94%). The next highest rates were in Lebanon and India.
European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and France had the lowest contamination percentage, but it was still 72%. In each 500ml sample, the average number of fibres identified ranged from 4.8 in the United States to 1.9 in Europe.
The new findings demonstrate the pervasiveness of microplastic pollution in the worldwide ecosystem. Prior research has mostly focused on plastic contamination in the seas, implying that individuals consume microplastics through contaminated seafood.
“We have enough data from looking at animals and the repercussions on wildlife to be worried,” said Dr. Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia who oversaw the Orb analysis. “How can we imagine that if it’s affecting nature, it’s not going to affect us?”
Separate modest research published in June in the Republic of Ireland discovered microplastic contamination in a small number of tap water and well samples. “We don’t know what the [health] impact is, so we should adopt the cautious approach and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the true hazards are,” said Dr Anne Marie Mahon, who performed the research at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
According to Mahon, the two main concerns are extremely minute plastic particles and the chemicals or diseases that microplastics might harbor. “If the fibres are present, it is feasible that the nanoparticles are present as well, which we cannot test,” she explained. “As they get into the nanometre range, they can truly infiltrate a cell, which implies they can reach organs, which is concerning.” The Orb analysis detected particles larger than 2.5 microns in size, which is 2,500 times larger than a nanometre.
According to Mahon, microplastics can attract sewage bacteria: “Some studies have indicated that there are more hazardous pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment facilities.”
Plastic Contamination is Prevalent in Tap Water
Source: Orb Media
Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb hazardous substances, and studies on wild animals indicate that they are released in the body. “It became evident pretty early on that the plastic would release those compounds and that actually, the environment in the gut would enable really very fast release,” Prof Richard Thompson of Plymouth University in the United Kingdom told Orb. Microplastics have been identified in one-third of the fish collected in the UK, according to his research.
The extent of worldwide microplastic pollution is just now becoming obvious, with German researchers discovering fibres and pieces in all 24 beer brands examined, as well as honey and sugar. Researchers detected microplastic dropping from the air in Paris in 2015, which they said deposits three to ten tonnes of fibers on the city each year, and that it was also present in people’s homes’ air.
According to Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, “if we breathe them in, they might possibly convey pollutants to the lower regions of our lungs and maybe even over into our circulation.” Kelly told the Guardian that after seeing the Orb data, she believes more research is needed to understand whether consuming plastic particles poses a health concern.
The current study, conducted at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, analyzed 159 samples using a conventional approach to exclude contamination from other sources. The samples were collected from all around the world, including Uganda, Ecuador, and Indonesia.
For the time being, it is unknown how microplastics wind up in drinking water, although one apparent source is the atmosphere, with fibres shed by the normal wear and tear of garments and carpets. Tumble dryers are another possible source, with about 80% of American houses having dryers that vent to the outside.
“We honestly believe that the lakes [and other bodies of water] might be poisoned by cumulative air inputs. What we saw in Paris appears to suggest that a substantial quantity of fibres is present in atmospheric debris.,” said Johnny Gasperi, a researcher at the Université Paris-Est Créteil.
Plastic fibers may also be discharged into water systems, according to recent research, with each cycle of a washing machine potentially releasing 700,000 fibers into the environment. Rains might also wash away microplastic contamination, which could explain why Indonesian residential wells were discovered to be polluted.
The water supply of Beirut, Lebanon, originates from natural springs, yet 94% of the samples were polluted. “This study barely scrapes the surface, but it appears to be a very itchy one,” said Hussam Hawwa, an environmental consultant who gathered samples for Orb.
“There is nowhere really where you can claim they are being captured 100%,” Mahon said of current basic water treatment systems. The diameter of the fibres is 10 microns wide, and that amount of filtering would be exceedingly unique in modern drinking water systems.”
Bottled water may not be a microplastic-free option to tap water, as they were detected in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested for Contamination in the United States.
Every year, about 300 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured, and with just 20% recycled or burnt, much of it ends up fouling the air, land, and water. According to a July analysis, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been created since the 1950s, with academics warning that plastic garbage has grown pervasive in the ecosystem.
“We are progressively suffocating ecosystems with plastic, and I am extremely concerned that there may be all kinds of unanticipated, detrimental repercussions that we may only discover when it is too late,” said research leader Prof Roland Geyer of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The latest tap water assessments, according to Mahon, raise a red flag, but further study is needed to reproduce the results, identify the sources of pollution, and assess the potential health implications.
Overall, we are living on a plastic planet which has started to contaminate everything. We have to learn to avoid using plastics and take this seriously!