Plastic particles in drinking water - how big are the general health risks?

Drinking water is polluted with microplastics worldwide

Microscopic plastic particles and fibers float everywhere in the world's oceans, rivers and freshwater reservoirs. An American research team now addressed the question: If all waters are contaminated by microplastic pollution, could there be plastic in the drinking water? The scientists conducted an observation experiment in which more than 150 tap water samples from cities on five continents were examined. European water was also scrutinized. The results give cause for concern.

The research team was astonished to find that there have been no public research projects on this topic so far, although microplastic particles can be found almost everywhere: in wastewater, in the ocean, in rivers, they even fly through the air as microscopic fibers. According to a study by the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, led by Sherri Ann Mason, a pioneer in research into microplastic pollution, plastic pollution is also affecting worldwide drinking water.

Welcome to the plastic age

If researchers later found remains of our culture today, they would certainly call our age the plastic age, because plastic is everywhere. It envelops our meals and streamlines our cars. There are countless plastic items in every household. But these articles are just the tip of the plastic mountain. Because beyond the visible and palpable spectrum is the realm of invisible plastic. Tiny fibers, plastic fragments and chemical by-products get into any body of water - and our drinking water.

The samples come from very different areas

The water samples came from cities such as New Delhi, Jakarta and Beirut as well as from small towns such as Pinebluff in North Carolina with 1,439 inhabitants. The researchers wanted to ensure the greatest possible geographical diversity. Two samples from Germany were also represented. All water samples were analyzed using elaborate and sterile methods in the laboratory of the University of Minnesota to rule out possible additional sources of contamination.

Terrifying results
Only 19 percent of the drinking water samples contained no microplastic particles. In thirty-eight percent of the samples, the proportions of the microplastic particles were so small that they could hardly be measured using the methods used. Clear microplastic contamination was found in the remaining samples. The contamination was greatest in samples from the USA and Beirut. Here, 94 percent of the water samples contained microscopic plastic fibers.

Europe had the lowest values

From Europe, eight samples from Slovakia, three from England, two from Germany, two from Switzerland and one each from Ireland, France and Italy were examined. Here the proportion of contaminated samples averaged 72 percent. According to the scientists, no general conclusions can be drawn about the water quality in the individual countries from these results. However, the results would show the urgent need for further investigation.

Research into microplastic pollution is just beginning

"As this is the first global drinking water study of plastic pollution, the results of this study serve as first insight into the consequences of human plastic use and disposal," wrote researcher Mary Kosuth in her report to the non-profit organization "Orb Media", the the study published. Comprehensive assessments of global plastic contamination would require further and more intensive testing.

Researchers call for legal consequences

Professor Sherri Ann Mason oversaw the study. In previous research projects, she has already documented the broad extent of microplastic pollution in large North American waters. Their results have been used to support a partial legal ban on microplastic products in the United States and Canada.

Plastic particles have no geographical or financial limits

The researchers report that this previously unknown contamination opposes both wealth and geography. The number of plastic fibers found in tap water at the Trump Tower in Manhattan would have been no different from the samples from Beirut, Lebanon and Kampala in Uganda.

Unknown health consequences from toxins

Health risks from plastic parts in sea fish and now also in drinking water have been discussed for some time. According to the researchers, a person who drinks two liters of microplastically polluted water a day consumes more than 2,900 plastic particles a year. The scientists suspect that plastic particles can release toxins in the human body. Animal studies on this topic have already shown this. Good conditions for the release are, for example, in the intestine. (vb)

Author and source information

Video: Microplastics entering the food chain (August 2020).