Monday December 9, 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

Mexico Mammoths: Human-Built Woolly Mammoth Traps Found in Tultepec

Researchers speculated that ancient hunters probably chased the giant animals into the pits, which are 1.70 meters deep and 25 meters in diameter

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Mexico, Mammoths, Human
In this undated photo released by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, mammoth bones lie at an excavation site in Tultepec, just north of Mexico City. VOA

Anthropologists have found skeletons of at least 14 woolly mammoths that died after falling into traps built by humans 15,000 years ago.

The two pits were found in Tultepec, just north of Mexico City, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said this week.

Researchers speculated that ancient hunters probably chased the giant animals into the pits, which are 1.70 meters deep and 25 meters in diameter (5½ feet by 82 feet).

There was some evidence that some of the mammals had been butchered.

Mexico, Mammoths, Human
The two pits were found in Tultepec, just north of Mexico City, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said this week. Pixabay

Luis Cordoba, the head of the excavation team, said the discovery was key in studying the relationship between prehistoric hunting and gathering communities and the huge herbivores.

“There was little evidence before that hunters attacked mammoths. It was thought they frightened them into getting stuck in swamps and then waited for them to die,” he told reporters. “This is evidence of direct attacks on mammoths. In Tultepec we can see there was the intention to hunt and make use of the mammoths.”

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The pits were found when crews were digging in the area to build a garbage dump.  (VOA)