Microplastics In Our Water

microplastics

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared last month that, at the present time, there is no need to worry about the microplastics in our drinking water.

While this headline brought calm and tranquility to many, there are still numerous scientists and organizations that are very concerned about these particles of plastic in our seas, oceans and yes, drinking water.

What Are Microplastics

Microplastics are the most common type of debris that is found in our water sources today. While they come in assorted shapes and sizes, to be classified as such they must be less than 0.5mm in length.

Microplastics come from a multitude of sources, but usually they are remnants of larger pieces of plastic debris in the water. However, another significant source is microbeads, i.e., microplastics-by-design that are used in beauty and health products as, for example, exfoliating abrasives in facial cleansing products and toothpaste. Microbeads have been in use for over 50 years but on December 28, 2015 President Obama outlawed their use in health care products due to their impact on the environment. [1]

Microplastics—An Emerging Field of Study

With serious research still in its early stages, standardized field testing metrics for microplastics are under development. There are ongoing debates regarding the acceptable quantities of microplastics in the air we breathe and the water that we drink and use in our homes—not to mention the water that we fish or swim in or use for agriculture.

On August 20, 2019 the WHO released a very thorough 124 page report that addressed their concern with microplastics in our drinking water. Bruce Gordon, one of the organizers of the WHO research study, recognizes that there is limited data concerning microplastics and believes it is a top priority for the science community to measure and monitor the long-term effect of microplastics in our water and air.

The report states the enormity of the problem. There are measurable quantities of microplastics in almost all of the seafood that we eat and these plastic particles are found in all four corners of the planet, including the Antarctic. Of the 400 million tons produced each year, an estimated 8 million tons are dumped into our oceans. Only 1 percent can be accounted for—the rest has just seemed to “disappear”. The WHO report pleads for the world to break out of its out of sight out of mind mentality and to stop microplastics pollution before the situation becomes intolerable. [2]

Despite the high level of general concern, the WHO does not think that it is necessary to check drinking water on a regular basis for microplastics. Although the amount of microplastics in our water is very high, there is no definitive proof at this time that it has reached the danger level. They say that, for now, the budgetary outlays for monitoring for microparticles can be put to better use fighting known carcinogens in our water. [3]

The Final Note

The World Health Organization is in a very uncomfortable position. It’s obvious from their report that microplastics are in the water we drink and the air we breathe in alarming quantities. They are walking a thin line between trying not to cause public panic and serving the public honestly and effectively.

Projects like Ocean Cleanup, which uses a massive U-shaped net to catch plastic debris in the Pacific Garbage Patch, do not even attempt to deal with the problem of microplastics. In fact, the enormity of the problem has many scientists convinced that we will never be able to expunge these tiny particles of plastic from our waters.

With predictions of plastic production doubling over the next five years, our responsibility to future generations and the planet is to invest in recycling and cut down on single-use plastic items, such as nylon bags, disposable bottles, plates and utensils.

References

[1] National Ocean Service, What Are Microplastics, 2019
[2] Matt Simon You’ve Been Drinking Microplastics, But No Need To Worry—Yet, August 21, 2019
[3] Jonathon Watts, Microplastics in water: no proof yet they are harmful, says WHO, August 22, 2019


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