It was recently discovered that small bits of plastic are passing through filtration systems at water treatment plants and ending up in many tap water systems across the world. A US-based non-profit organisation known as Orb sampled tap water from several countries across the world. They discovered that around 83% of the water samples they collected were actually contaminated with small plastic fibres and it has since raised a concern for health and safety.
Why is it happening?
Microplastics are beginning to contaminate the global environment. In fact, it was previously discovered that people may be ingesting these small plastic fibres when they eat seafood. However, this isn’t a problem that has only recently surfaced. In fact, plastics have existed in small amounts in the things we consume for a long time, but it’s only now becoming a major concern due to the pollution that is now plaguing our seas.
This very interesting post about wastewater also contains some information about how many chemicals are actually in the waters around us, whether they be from lakes, rivers or even beaches. This is why water treatment is such an important aspect of our lives. Only around 3% of the water in the world is actually fresh and the rest of it has to be recycled in order for the human race to continue using it.
How exactly microplastics are ending up in drinking water is still a mystery. However, there’s one hypothesis that is proving to be one of the most likely reasons. These microplastic fibres are the same as the ones that we shed from our clothing. Tumble dryers are also another possibility because they exhaust out into the open air which could contaminate our drinking water. These plastic fibres can end up in our water systems and they may even be washed around by rain.
Is it a concern?
Currently, scientists are unsure whether the trace amounts of plastic in our tap water are harmful or not. There aren’t any immediate health impacts that they can see, but a lot of effort and research is being put into the subject to discover any potential problems before it becomes a bigger threat.
As of now, the most worrying concern is the ability for these microplastics to harbour harmful pathogens or chemicals. If there are fibres, then there’s a good chance that nanoparticles also exist on the fibres which can penetrate cells (and thus organs) and cause massive damage if there is harmful bacteria on the fibres. Microplastics are known to contain and absorb chemicals that can be toxic to wild animals, so there’s a good chance that they can also affect human begins.
Ultimately, the microplastics do pose a genuine concern, but until the results can be replicated and the sources of contamination can be found, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. Plastics are incredibly useful to our lives, but it’s the careless management of plastic waste that needs to be drastically improved to prevent these issues affecting our lives in the future.