Microplastics Where?

Part One

There have always been risks associated with the consumption of fresh water. Short of opening your mouth and drinking the rain directly from the sky, there has always been contamination of one form or another. But these dangers have been largely natural and have, since the advent of germ theory, been mitigated or eliminated entirely from the daily concerns of the developed world. One tends not to give much thought to the drinking water since most modern sources are expected to be tested for, protected from, and treated against, biohazards. However, the Industrial Age has come with its own sets of contaminants. Some, such as chemical spills and general industrial pollution, are overt and obvious, with readily apparent effects on the human population. Some are quiet, unexpected, nearly invisible in their anonymity, and not readily apparent in their potential harm to the human population. Such is the case with microplastics. Perhaps it is the time for drinking water to become a topic for thought.

For an in-depth definition and exploration of the nature of microplastics, at least within the EU, A.J. Verschoor presented Towards a Definition of Microplastics: Considerations for the specification of physico-chemical properties1 to The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this article, microplastics are exactly what they sound like: microscopic, or near microscopic, insoluble fibers of plastic. And they are being found in an alarming amount of the world's drinking water. Considering that the long-term effects on human health are thus far unknown and considering that the microplastics' presence in the water system are only likely to rise, this seems to be an issue that demands early action over late.

The Guardian reports, in a September 2017 article2 (citing an investigation by Orb Media3), that the presence of microplastics in tap water has been observed in all parts of the globe. In their study they found 83% of the samples tested were polluted with these plastic particles and fibers. Although only a dozen or so countries were tested (at least one on each continent), the results are alarming and consistent enough to warrant further study. Of the sampled nations' public water supplies none of them were entirely free of contaminated sources. In fact, the areas with the LOWEST amount of contaminated tap water sources still had 72% of the tested sources containing some amount of microplastic. The highest amount found, in the U.S., was a staggering 94% of all tested taps giving forth microplastic contaminated water. A high enough percentage to practically ensure that any given citizen is likely to be consuming, or have consumed, plastic on a regular basis (assuming that they drink their tap water). One could practically call the consumption of microplastic in the United States "unavoidable".

Although there are many theories, it is not yet known how these contaminants are finding their way into municipal sources. Therefore, it is not apparent how to address the issue of prevention. It should not be expected to be solved in the near future. Perhaps one should stick to bottled water for drinking, coffee, cooking, etc. An expensive proposal, to be sure, but at least one would avoid drinking an ever-increasing amount of micro-plastics, right?...




1 - https://rivm.openrepository.com/rivm/bitstream/10029/575986/3/2015-0116.pdf

2 - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

3 - https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics