Your tap water is probably contaminated with plastic fibers, new study shows

I’ve always been one to drink water straight from the tap. I mean, it’s totally fine. I live in NYC and I’ve heard that this is some the best tap water out there. However, a new study has me feeling like I need to go get a Brita ASAP. In an investigation by Orb Media, researchers from the University of Minnesota tested tap water around the world (in over a dozen countries and over five continents) and found that 83 percent of the water samples contained microscopic-sized plastic fibers. That’s right, there’s plastic in our drinking water.

The Down and Dirty

The study's findings showed that here in the US, 94 percent of tap water is polluted. This included samples taken from the US Capitol, the Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters, and even Trump Tower (#sad).

Comparatively, the countries with the highest rates of contamination were Lebanon (94 percent of water contaminated) and India (82 percent), while the countries with the lowest rates were in Europe (72 percent).

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10 ways you can drink more water
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10 ways you can drink more water

1. Add flavor

Spa water, anyone? 

If you're not about that plain water life, simply cut up some fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and add it to a jug of ice water. Some of our favorite additions include lemon, cucumber, strawberries and basil. 

2. Keep a bottle of water near you at all times

Sometimes, you just forget! But if you keep a glass or bottle of water in many places, it'll be a constant reminder to hydrate. We like to keep one in the car, at our desks, on our nightstands and so on. 

3. Try SodaStream

According to a recent survey, SodaStream drinkers drink 43% more water than consumers who don't own a machine. Forget store-bought bottles and opt for this convenient, eco-friendly and affordable magical machine. We're a big fan. 

SodaStream Power Metal Sparkling Water Maker Starter Kit, White, $133.99

BUY IT

4. Opt for the one-to-one rule.

Drinking? No problem. We're big enthusiasts of this rule. For every drink you have, supplement it with one glass of water. Shots included!  

5. Download a water tracking app.

Track your water consumption with your phone. Apps like Hydro Coach and Water Time Pro can offer in-depth statistics on your water drinking habits. Whether you're drinking teas or eating a lot of healthy fruits, these apps take your diet and exercise into account. 

6. And with that said, eat your water! 

Fruits and vegetables are not only packed with great nutrients, but more water than you probably realize. Here's a breakdown of some of our favorites. 

  • Watermelon: 92% water
  • Tomatoes: 94% water
  • Peppers: 94% water
  • Celery: 96% water
  • Cucumber: 96% water

7. Invest in a water filter

You might be more inclined to drink water if it's from a crisp, cold pitcher. Especially if you're not a fan of tap water, the Brita helps clean out murky different tastes coming from the faucet! 

Brita 10 Cup Everyday Water Pitcher with 1 Filter, BPA Free, White, $36.30

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8. Drink a glass before every meal

Get yourself into a routine to drink a glass of water before every meal. And then continue drinking! It'll also fill you up. 

9. Invest in a nice water bottle

If you spend a little cash on it, hopefully you're more inclined to use it, right? And you'll want to show it off! We're loving these adorable bottles from Swell, like this one that's also insulated.

It's worth every penny.  

S'well Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle, Double Wall, 17 oz, Turquoise Blue, $35.00

BUY IT

10. Set goals for yourself

Now, with that snazzy new water bottle, grab a role of tape and measure out how much water you'll want to have had before a set time! And stick to it. 

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Now I’m totally freaking out, because not only are we drinking plastic with our water, but it’s totally possible that these fibers have gotten into our food and other drinks. So, that beer you shotgunned last night or the coffee you're drinking right now — yeah, you might have also downed some plastic. Really, nothing is safe.

If you’re wondering how it got there, most of the plastic probably comes from clothes. Many particles are believed to be released by washing machines and dryers. According to another study done by Plymouth University, at the end of each cycle, a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic particles. However, more research needs to be done on where these babies come from. Still, I'm using this as an excuse to wash my jeans even less.

Why You Should Care

These fibers are so small, you wouldn’t notice them. But you should def care about them, because according to Orb, materials like these microplastics can absorb toxic chemicals that are linked to illnesses like cancer. When consumed by humans and our food (like fish and livestock), those harmful chemicals are released. 

Researcher at England’s Plymouth University Richard Thompson told Orb that, “It became very clear early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release.”

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5 reasons you should never drink out of a plastic water bottle
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5 reasons you should never drink out of a plastic water bottle

They can release harmful chemicals into your water

Plastics are made to withstand a variety of temperatures -- but at a cost. The hotter the bottle gets, the more potential there is to release chemicals known to cause diseases like cancer, especially if you use them over and over again. 

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Chemicals in the plastic may make having a baby more difficult

Those same chemicals in the plastic, like BPA, could make having a baby more difficult by affecting fertility. Researchers found that men and women undergoing in-vitro fertilization who had high levels of BPA in their blood, urine, and work environment were less likely to have a successful pregnancy. This is according to a 2013 review of 91 studies published in Reproductive Toxicology

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It could raise your risk of heart disease and other circulatory issues

Humans exposed to the highest levels of BPA have an increased risk of heart disease, according to a 2012 study published in Circulation. Researchers think this could be due to BPA's link to high blood pressure. 

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Refilling plastic bottles may expose you to harmful bacteria 

Both reusable and disposal plastic bottles break down from regular use over time, meaning that even teeny cracks can welcome in bacteria, according to an article published in journal Practical Gastroenterology. And while most bacteria is usually harmless, bottles can harbor norovirus-, cold-, and flu-causing bacteria. And while usually we'd advise you to wash with hot water and soap, that could cause the plastic to break down even more!

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They're awful for the environment (Duh!)

Many of the bottles are still ending up in the garbage even after they are recycled once. The solution? At home filters. Or bottles made of steel, aluminum or polycarbonate because as they say it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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Dr. Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (who conducted another study on the contamination of tap water in Republic of Ireland in June) told the Guardian, “We don’t know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are.” 

Still, I'm cringing. 

What Can Be Done

Of course, plastic comes in handy in our daily lives. Just a quick scan of my surroundings and I’m looking at my plastic yogurt container, a tube of chapstick, and my phone case. “We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways,” Mahon says.

According to Louise Edge, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK who spoke with the Guardian, these tiny plastics in our tap water are almost nothing compared to the amounts found in our oceans. “From bottles to packaging to microplastics, companies need to take responsibility for what they produce; governments need to legislate for change — and all of us need to change how we think about plastic,” she said. 

Luckily, governments are already making moves on this plastic problem. You know those little plastic beads found in your face wash, toothpaste, other body scrubs? Well, on July 1, 2017,  the Microbead Free Waters Act started phasing those beads out in the US. 

So, yes, although this is a bit freaky, you can’t really avoid mini plastic fibers in your glass of water right now. But what you can do is help prevent it by supporting bans on things like plastic bags (a tote is always cuter anyways), recycle, use less plastic and support organizations helping to tackle plastic pollution like the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Also, if you think drinking only Smartwater or Fiji Water is going to help you avoid the plastic, you’re wrong, my friend. Yep, Orb reported that researchers found microplastics in samples of some bottled water, too. Like I said before, nothing is safe.                    

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