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Plastic microparticles found in tap water around the world

Carsten ten Brink /



American researchers analyzed samples of tap water from 14 countries and found that 83 percent of them contain plastic microparticles. The study was commissioned by the organization of independent journalists Orb Media; with its results can be found on the organization’s website.

The mass production of plastic began in the early 50’s of the last century and over 60 years it has grown more than 180 times, from 1.7 million tons in 1954 to 322 million tons in 2015. In this case, even in some European countries, more than half of the plastic waste is emitted and enters the environment. In last year’s study, environmentalists estimated that more than 17.5 tons of plastic waste accumulated on one of the most remote uninhabited islands of the Earth. They were thrown ashore by ocean currents.

Orb Media journalists wondered if the oceans and fresh water are contaminated with plastic, is it in tap water? To find out, they collected 159 samples of tap water in 14 countries and asked to conduct a study of samples of scientists from the universities of Minnesota and the State University of New York in Fredonia.

It turned out that in 83 percent of the samples were microparticles and microfibers of plastic. Most of the plastic was contained in tap water from the United States, Lebanon (in 94 percent of cases) and from India (in 82 percent of samples). The least amount of plastic was in water from Europe – in 72 percent of the samples. On average, the number of plastic particles ranged from 4.8 in a 500-milliliter sample from the US, to 1.9 in a sample from Europe.

Scientists have named the main sources of plastic microparticles, polluting tap water. It:

  • dirty water, which remains after washing synthetic things;
  • microparticles of artificial rubber from car tires. According to the researchers, when running a hundred kilometers from each machine, about 20 grams of polymer dust is formed. For example, on the roads of Norway, about a kilogram of dust per year is generated per inhabitant of the country;
  • microparticles of a paint which use for a marking of roads and painting of vessels and houses;
  • secondary waste, for example plastic packaging, dishes and food containers. Annually about eight million tons of such wastes enter freshwater ponds and oceans. They do not decompose completely, but turn into microscopic fibers;
  • particles of plastic from the air. According to researchers, every year in the air of Paris formed from three to ten tons of plastic dust. While researchers do not understand where it comes from. One of the assumptions – microscopic dust is formed when friction of synthetic things about the surface.

According to the researchers, microparticles of plastic enter the body not only with water, but also with fish and seafood. First plastic swallow microorganisms, forming plankton, which feeds the vast majority of the inhabitants of the ocean. Then a part of this fish, crustaceans and mollusks get to the table to people. Part of the microparticles enters the body from plastic food packaging and plastic dishes.

“Plastic is a constant part of our daily diet. Usually we assume that in a plastic bottle there is pure drinking water; that plastic utensils in which we warm food in a microwave oven or pour hot drinks, protects them. But plastic dishes do not work as a completely inert barrier, plasticizers “wash out” plasticizing additives, such as bisphenol A or phthalates, which disrupt the endocrine system; flame retardants and toxic heavy metals that are adsorbed in our bodies, “explains Scott Belcher, a professor at the North Carolina State University, a representative of the Endocrinology Society of the United States.

Previously, researchers found that some organisms not only eat different types of plastic, but also know how to process it. So, in recent years, scientists have found bacteria that can digest one of the most common types of plastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET), larvae of the beetle of a large flour mackerel were able to process polystyrene, and waxy moth caterpillars – polyethylene.

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