Study: Billions are consuming contaminated water, and the U.S. is the worst off

According to a new study conducted by Orb Media, there is a high chance that if you are consuming water straight from the tap, you are also swallowing potentially lethal microscopic plastic fibres along with billions scattered around the world.

As Public Radio International stated, the study was handled by research scientists from the University of Minnesota and the State University of New York, who collected and tested 159 samples of tap water from five separate continents, and according to the Guardian, found that 83 per cent of the water tested was contaminated with the plastic fibres. The United States (U.S.) had the highest contamination rate of all the water samples, at 94 per cent.

The International Business Times also named the nations coming in with the next highest rates as India and Lebanon respectively, while the European countries posted lower rates.

But in the U.S., for every 500ml sample of water, 4.8 plastic fibres were found, nearly three times more than the 1.9 detected in water samples from Europe.

These findings have deeply concerned Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert from the State University of New York, and one of the overseers of the Orb media research study.

According to Mason, while the damage microplastics can wreck is unknown, the “most troubling part” is that there is reason to worry.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, makes it a cause of concern,” Mason said to the Sacramento Bee. “If it’s impacting wildlife, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Research conducted on wildlife have concluded that microplastics contain chemicals that, when digested, can be released into the body. And according to Anne Marie Mahon from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, there is reason to believe the microplastics can cause internal damage.

“If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles that we can’t measure are there too,” said to the Guardian in an interview. “Once they are in the nanometre range, they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying.”

Unfortunately, no one is certain where the plastic fibres are originating from, though researchers have some ideas that include the fibre shirts and carpets shed when washed. The Guardian also named another study from the University of Plymouth which uncovered that a single cycle of a washing machine can release up to 700,000 fibres into the surrounding environs.

However, Mary Kosuth, who tested the water samples in the Orb Media study, wrote that the study was only the very first step in finding out just how serious and widespread this issue of plastic contamination is.

“Since this is the first global tap water survey of plastic pollution to have been completed, the results of this study serve as an initial glimpse at the consequences of human plastic use and disposal rather than a comprehensive assessment of global plastic contamination,” she wrote in her report. “These results call for further testing within and between regions.”


Sources: The Guardian, Public Radio International, the Sacramento Bee