People may be ingesting between 3,000 and 4,000 microparticles of plastic from tap water every year, according to a study based on samples from 14 countries. Plastic degrades over time into tiny particles known as microplastics, which were found in 83% of 159 tap water samples analysed, according to the report compiled by Orb Media.
The results were based on tests conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the State University of New York, US.
While the health risks associated with the findings are unknown, the researchers pointed to previous findings that plastic particles can absorb, and release, potentially harmful chemicals and bacteria. Microplastics absorb toxic chemicals from the marine environment, which are released into the bodies of fish and mammals who consume them, Orb Media’s chief executive, Molly Bingham, added in a statement.
While much research has focused on plastic pollution of lakes, rivers, the ocean, beaches, even the air we breathe, less attention has been paid to its presence in human consumables, the team said. This was the first study to look at micro-plastics in drinking water, the researchers added.
Samples were collected in the first three months of the year in Kampala (Uganda), New Delhi, Jakarta (Indonesia), Beirut (Lebanon), Quito (Ecuador), several cities in the US, and in seven European countries.
By far the majority of particles found were fibres ranging from 0.1to five millimetres (0.004-0.2 inches) in length.
The range was from zero to 57 particles per litre of water, with an average of 4.34 particles per litre.
“The highest density of plastic per volume of tap water was found in North America and the lowest densities were found, collectively , in seven European countries,“ wrote the team.
“These plastic particles (consumed) are in addition to plastics potentially consumed in other products, such as sea salt, beer and seafood,“ the team wrote.
They called for further tests to gather more information about potential pollution sources and pathways, as well as the risks to human health. Micro-plastics are less than 5mm long, about the size of a sesame seed.