Water: Are Microplastics Creating a Major Problem?

By 26 February 2020 March 6th, 2020 General

It is no secret that pollution and contamination of plastic into our environments causes damage and suffering to animals and wildlife in general.

But little did we know and what is relatively new to us, is how plastic in the water is affecting humans as well. Microplastics and nanoparticles to be precise. Although they may be extremely small in size, their impact may not be.

History

Our love of plastics did not occur until the 1950’s Our World in data puts it into perspective… ‘…rapid growth in global plastic production was not realised until the 1950s. Over the next 65 years, annual production of plastics increased nearly 200-fold to 381 million tonnes in 2015. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.’

This mass usage has rapidly had an effect on our environments through pollution in general and the slow breakdown of this material has meant that not only are our external environments being affected but, when we put it under a microscope our personal environments are affected by it too.

We are now aware that our water supply is being contaminated with it and although it generally can’t be seen by the user, microplastics are very much present, in fact they are absolutely everywhere. In our tap water, even bottled water and are being consumed by us regularly.

Do microparticles actually do us any harm?

It’s clear there is plastic in our drinking water, but is there actually any way of guaranteeing 100% pure water? Some governments even choose to add things to our water to encourage the health of the population e.g. fluoride. But does the existence of microplastics in our water actually do us any harm? Research has been done, but the results are inconclusive.

Medical News Today informs us that ‘Theoretically if a person consumes them, some microplastics are small enough to pass through the gut wall and enter the circulatory system. Whether or not this happens, and whether or not it impacts human health, remains unknown.’

It’s not simply the plastic that could cause harm, they may be carrying other harmful substances which could seep out and into our bloodstreams, causing further unknown harm.

It’s a widespread problem

The presence of plastic is more prominent then you would think and ongoing research is paramount. The Guardian highlighted that ‘Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.’ We must ask the question – what is this doing to our health and what are the implications?

This isn’t just happening in the UK, it’s happening all over the world. With America being the worst offender. The Guardian talks stats ‘The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.’

Research

The more we look into this the more we find out. Research has identified that harmful microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the United Kingdom, that microplastics attract bacteria found in sewage and that they absorb toxic chemicals. Tests on animals have proven that these toxins can be released into the body of the consumer. Any build-up of toxins inevitably could have an impending result on our overall health, the diseases we contract or illnesses that eventually develops.

How did it get there?

Business Insider explains that ‘Recent studies have shown that much of the microplastic pollution in drinking water today comes from two key sources: the polypropylene that is a common bottle cap material, and the polyester and polyethylene terephthalate, which often make disposable water bottles.’

Other sources include microbeads which are found in everyday beauty products like face wash or exfoliator. Some countries have taken to banning these products.

What can we do about the problem?

Currently the process of treating our water does not filter out all of the microplastics, even bottled water does not provide a microplastic free alternative to our tap water. You can read  more about the cleaning process of our drinking water in our prior water article here.

As a country, we are committed to a comprehensive recycling program, but we are still only recycling or incinerating a fraction of what we can, meaning the vast majority ends up being a source of pollution somewhere.

The rates of recycling vary greatly by country…

Source: Eurostat

It’s clear that we have come to depend on plastic in our lives so much so that we may never be able to get rid of it or the damage it has done to our planet. We must, however, try our best to recycle as much as we can so we can soften the blow and impact to our planet and our bodies in the future. We need to change for change to happen.

At Utility Team we have dedicated water team who are specialists in water supply, they can advise you of your options and highlight areas where you can save money. For more advice contact them today water@utilityteam.co.uk / 02476 997 901.

 

Article written by: Gemma Kingsley, Water Consultant