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).
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.”
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.