Plastic Pollution, Water Quality
September 29 2017

Microplastics Found in Drinking Water

by Katie Day

Its official – microplastics have been found in our drinking water.

A recent study by OrbMedia analyzed 159 water samples, sourced from both tap water and bottled water in 14 countries, and found that over 80% of all samples contained tiny plastic particles, with an average of 4.34 plastic particles per liter of water. Even more surprising, 94% of water samples from the United States contained microplastics, which topped the list.

Researchers expected that undeveloped countries would have higher instances of plastics in drinking water than developed countries, since developed countries have more complex infrastructure – yet results indicated that it didn’t matter. Microplastics were in drinking water sources regardless of wastewater and debris infrastructure.

“It gets worse. Plastic is all but indestructible, meaning plastic waste doesn’t biodegrade; rather, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, even down to particles in nanometer scale — one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter. Studies show particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs.” – Chris Tyree & Dan Morrison, Authors of Invisibles: The plastic inside us

Think switching to bottled water is better? Nope. The study also found microplastics in water samples from main bottled water companies including Evian, Dasani, and Aquafina. The authors note “a man may consume as many as 14 plastic particles a day, while a woman could consume up to 10 plastic particles a day” from just drinking the recommended dose of water, not to mention the amount of plastics consumed from eating seafood, beer, and salt.

Although we know microplastics enter the marine environment by escaping wastewater treatment facilities – researchers pose that microscopic plastic particles may also be entering water sources from the air.  

Main take away of the study – human overuse and mass manufacturing of plastic have caused plastic particles to infiltrate our environment, food, drinking water, and now maybe even the air we breathe. Researchers stress that regardless of the environmental entry point, be it wastewater treatment facilities, atmospheric deposition, or beneficial reuse of sewage sludge for farm application – the ultimate source is human production and use of plastic.

Global plastic waste generated, discarded, incinerated, and recycled since 1960. Graph and data from R. Geyer, J. Jambeck, and K. Law. 2017. “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made”. As of 2015, only 9% of plastic produced was recycled, while 79% collected in landfills or the environment.

It will be important for future studies to test the potential health impacts of microplastics able to enter bodily organs like lymph nodes, the effectiveness of various filtration methods to capture microplastics, and the amount and source of airborne plastics. For instance, just last month a study found that plastic consumption may be causing brain damage and behavioral disorders in fish.

Disclaimer: This OrbMedia study has not yet been peer reviewed: however, Surfrider staff and partner organizations have had direct contact with the study's researchers - the lead of which is an esteemed Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the ​Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at the​ State University of New York at Fredonia. Surfrider will continue to track progress with any peer reviews to ensure accuracy of the study's findings, but in the meantime we trust this researcher and her team regarding research diligence, care, and accuracy.

Help protect yourself, your friends, and the environment from plastic by reducing your plastic consumption!