Your Tap Water Probably Contains Plastic Fibers

Plastic pollution remains a major issue around the world, and now a new study suggests that microplastics have invaded our drinking water.

An investigation conducted by Orb Media and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health examined over 150 water samples from 14 countries across five continents — all in search of microfibers.

These high durable fibers are most commonly found in synthetic clothing, and they do not biodegrade. Unfortunately, the very property that makes them a good fit for long-lasting clothes also means they pose a major hazard to the environment. Our water filtration systems simply cannot prevent microfibers from getting into the wider water supply.

Previous research has found evidence of microplastics consumed by marine animals, so it’s highly likely that humans are ingesting them too.

And that’s precisely what this new study seems to suggest: 83 percent of the drinking water samples showed traces of microfibers.

The U.S. Fares Poorly

The U.S. had the highest level of microfibers at a 94 percent contamination rate. The Guardian notes that the water samples highlighting this problem came from some significant sources too: “tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York” had some of the highest rates.

But the U.S. was by no means alone. European samples showed a 72 percent rate of contamination, while India and Uganda experienced an 82 percent contamination rate.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife to be concerned”, microplastics researcher Sherri Mason explained. “If it’s impacting them, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Where does microplastic pollution come from?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how microplastics are reaching our water, but there are a few likely sources.

As Orb media points out, microfibers in clothes are one major culprit. These fibers slowly come off during washing cycles, and general wear, and some will inevitably infiltrate the water system.

Some other potential sources of microplastics pollution include paint, car tires and microbeads.

What are the health implications of microfibers?

Unfortunately, we don’t know — at least, not for humans. But the impact on animals has not been favorable.

Fish have been on the front line of the microplastics problem for a long time now, so the available data tends to focus on these impacts. Research has demonstrated that fish exposed to microplastics generally fail to thrive.

In more concrete terms, premature death before reproduction tends to rise, and those fish that don’t die often display stunted growth. Furthermore, fish that feed on affected fish appear to show behavioral changes — and that indicates the plastic pollutants are affecting the wider food chain.

It may be that, because humans are relatively large animals, our tolerance for microplastics will be a great deal higher than fish, for example. However, the sheer amount of microplastics we have produced remains an issue.

One of the key concerns is which chemicals the tiny plastics might release once they are in our bodies — and how they might increase rates of cancer or impact reproductive health.

What are the next steps?

European law requires that water be clear of contaminants, and this would seem to include microfibers and microplastics. While specific measures may have to be created to address this problem, there does seem to be an existing framework to begin that process.

In the U.S., there is no specific safety standard when it comes to plastics in the water supply. As this is a relatively new problem to be identified, that’s not surprising. However, microbead bans at both the state and federal level offer some legislative context to take action.

The researchers in this case contend that further examination of this issue is absolutely warranted, and they urge world governments to consider microfiber contamination sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson

47 comments

Philippa P
Philippa Powers1 months ago

I filter my water.

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Cruel J
Cruel J2 months ago

Even the cats get filtered water.

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Henry M
Henry M2 months ago

Pollution reach the heart of our government at capital hill. Maybe this will motivate policy makers to fight back.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

And I dont even want to think what else.

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ellie d
Ellie M2 months ago

eww

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Elaine D
Elaine D2 months ago

Thank you

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Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

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Elaine W
Elaine W2 months ago

Noted with alarm.

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Colin Clauscen
Colin C2 months ago

Yes I have read about this, we have to stop using so much plastic

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Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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