Drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, study reveals

Friday September 8 2017

A Kosawo Primary School pupil drinks water from a tap at the school during break time on this picture taken on October 28, 2016. A global scientific study has revealed that 83 per cent of water flowing from taps around the world is contaminated with microplastics. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Kosawo Primary School pupil drinks water from a tap at the school during break time on this picture taken on October 28, 2016. A global scientific study has revealed that 83 per cent of water flowing from taps around the world is contaminated with microplastics. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PAULINE KAIRU
More by this Author

A global scientific study has revealed that 83 per cent of water flowing from taps around the world is contaminated with microplastics.

This means billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles.

Samples of tap water from around the world were analysed by scientists at the University of Minnesota School Of Public Health and the State University of New York for an investigation by Orb Media, a non-profit digital news organisation.

The media outlet on Tuesday released Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us, the first ever global scientific study on the overwhelming prevalence of microplastics (less than 5mm) debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste in tap water.

PLASTIC FIBRES

Uganda, the only country in Africa included in the study, was found to have 81 per cent prevalence of microscopic plastic fibres in its tap water. The results, according to the study, are a pointer to what could be the prevailing situation around the continent.

The study, funded by Orb Media and conducted in a 10-month investigation across six continents, found that 83 per cent of the samples collected tested positive for the presence of plastic fibres.

According to Orb’s research, plastic fibres have infiltrated the drinking water of cities and towns all over the world. They were even found in top US bottled water brands.

The US had the highest contamination rate, a 94 per cent prevalence. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates in Asia with a prevalence of 94 per cent and 82 per cent respectively.

European nations, including the UK, Germany and France, had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72 per cent.

LAKE VICTORIA

Orb will continue to test additional tap water samples from around the world for microscopic plastic fibres and will announce these results in late September.

“From the halls of the US Capitol Hill to the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, women, children, men, and babies are consuming plastic with every glass of water,” said the report.

This has led to calls by scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Dr Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia and Elizabeth Wattenberg at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health oversaw the sample testing, which was carried out by researcher Mary Kosuth.

GERMANY

Ms Kosuth screened 159 half-litre drinking water samples from 14 countries: Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Slovakia, Switzerland, Uganda the UK and the United States. 

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife and the impacts that it’s having to be concerned,” said Dr Mason, a microplastic expert. “If it’s impacting wildlife, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”