Right around the planet, billions of people are drinking water that is laced with tiny plastic microfibers. That is the worrying conclusion of a global analysis of drinking water, which found that 83 percent of tap water sampled contained traces of microplastic.
The implications for our own health are as yet unknown, although the investigation carried out by Orb Media has led to calls for urgent research into what impact they may be having on the scores of people from high- to low-income countries that are consuming the tiny bits of plastic.
From the United States to Indonesia, the team analyzed over 150 different water samples taken from 14 different countries on five continents, and found that the vast majority were contaminated with plastic microfibers. The research shows the utter ubiquity of plastic in our modern lives and just how little we know about its impact on not just the environment, but ourselves too.
Out of all the countries sampled, the US topped the list, with 94 percent of places tested coming back positive for plastic. This included tap water taken from the Congress building, the EPA headquarters, and even Trump Towers. Europe came back with 72 percent of samples contaminated, while Ecuador clocked up 75 percent, and India had 82 percent.
The plastics come from a variety of sources, with the washing of synthetic clothing a big factor, as is the wear from car wheels, dust from paint, as well as microbeads.
One of the most important aspect of this new report is the discovery that there are multiple ways in which these tiny bits of plastic are entering our bodies. While it has long been shown that some fish and seabirds consume microplastics in the sea, not everyone relies on fish for food. But everyone has to drink, and these plastic fibers have been found in tap water right around the planet, from New York to Kampala.
“Scientists say they don't really know how these microplastics reach our taps or what the health risks might be,” explains Molly Bingham, founder and CEO of Orb Media, in a statement. “But microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals from the marine environment, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals. I am concerned by the implications of our research.”
The team are now calling for more research to look into how these fibers may be impacting our health, as well as ways to limit the flow of them into our oceans and drinking water.