Tuesday September 17, 2019

Microplastics Contained in Drinking Water Pose “Low” Risk to Human Health at Current Levels

Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said

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FILE - Bags filled with caps are pictured at the Association Bouchon d'Amour, which collects and recycles plastic caps in Martignas-Sur-Jalles, near Bordeaux, France, Nov. 23, 2018. VOA

Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns, but the limited data appears reassuring, the U.N. agency said its first report on potential health risks associated with ingestion.

Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said. Evidence shows that microplastics found in some bottled water seem to be at least partly because of the bottling process and/or packaging such as plastic caps, it said.

“The headline message is to reassure drinking water consumers around the world, that based on this assessment, our assessment of the risk is that it is low,” Bruce Gordon of the WHO’s department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, told a briefing.

Microplastics, Drinking Water, Human
Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers. Pixabay

What happens to plastic in the body?

The WHO did not recommended routine monitoring for microplastics in drinking water. But research should focus on issues including what happens to chemical additives in the particles once they enter the gastrointestinal tract, it said.

The majority of plastic particles in water are larger than 150 micrometres in diameter and are excreted from the body, while “smaller particles are more likely to cross the gut wall and reach other tissues,” it said.

Health concerns have centered around smaller particles, said Jennifer De France, a WHO technical expert and one of the report’s authors.

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“For these smallest size particles, where there is really limited evidence, we need know more about what is being absorbed, the distribution and their impacts,” she said.

More research is needed into risks from microplastics exposure throughout the environment — “in our drinking water, air and food,” she added.

Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, said in a statement on the WHO’s findings: “There are no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean that they are harmless.”

“It is important to put concerns about exposure to microplastics from drinking water into context: we are widely exposed to microplastics in our daily lives via a wide number of sources, of which drinking water is just one,” she added.

Microplastics, Drinking Water, Human
Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns, but the limited data appears reassuring, the U.N. agency said its first report. Pixabay

A credit card’s worth a week

Plastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said in June. That study said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish.

The biggest overall health threat in water is from microbial pathogens, including from human and livestock waste entering water sources, that cause deadly diarrhea disease, especially in poor countries lacking water treatment systems, the WHO said.

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About 2 billion people drink water contaminated with feces, causing nearly 1 million deaths annually, Gordon said, adding: “That has got to be the focus of regulators around the world.” (VOA)

Next Story

Nano and Microplastics Harming Drinking Water for Humans, Says Study

The research highlights the current difficulty in detecting the presence of nano and microplastics in treatment systems

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Microplastics, plastic, EU
Plastic bottles and other plastics, including a mop, lie washed up on the bank of the River Thames in London, Britian. (Representational image). VOA

Researchers have found plastics in our water waste streams are breaking down into microplastics, causing potentially catastrophic consequences for human health and our aquatic systems.

For the study, published in the journal Water Research, researchers investigated nano and microplastics in water and wastewater treatment processes.

The team found that tiny pieces of plastic break down further during treatment processes, reducing the performance of treatment plants and impacting on water quality.

“The presence of nano and microplastics in water has become a major environmental challenge. Due to their small size, nano and microplastics can easily be ingested by living organisms and travel along water and wastewater treatment processes,” said study lead author Judy Lee, Professor the University of Surrey in the UK.

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For the study, published in the journal Water Research, researchers investigated nano and microplastics in water and wastewater treatment processes. Flickr

“In large quantities they impact the performance of water treatment processes by clogging up filtration units and increasing wear and tear on materials used in the design of water treatment units,” Lee said.

Approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year and up to 13 million tons of that is released into rivers and oceans, contributing to approximately 250 million tons of plastic by 2025.

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According to the researchers, since plastic materials are not generally degradable through weathering or ageing, this accumulation of plastic pollution in the aquatic environment creates a major concern.

The research highlights the current difficulty in detecting the presence of nano and microplastics in treatment systems. (IANS)