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World Environment Day: Now Microplastics Are in Your Tap Water

Out of the 17 tap water samples collected from New Delhi, 14 tested positive for microscopic plastic fibres. 

Updated
Health News
3 min read
India is third on the list, with 82.4% of the tap water contaminated.
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Add microplastics to the long list of things you are getting in your tap water at home.

As per a study carried out by Orb Media recently, 83 percent of the the tap water samples collected from across the world were found to be contaminated with microplastics.

India is third on the list, with 82.4 percent of the tap water being contaminated. The samples for the study were collected from New Delhi.

83 percent of the the tap water samples collected from across the world were found to be contaminated with microplastics.
83 percent of the the tap water samples collected from across the world were found to be contaminated with microplastics.
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)
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US topped the contamination list at a whooping 94.4 percent, with Lebanon coming a close second at 93.8 percent.

Though European nations like Germany and France had low levels of contamination, the figure still stood at 72 percent. The average number of microscopic fibres found in each of the 500 ml samples ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

Glaring Stats From India

Out of the 17 tap water samples collected from New Delhi, 14 tested positive for microscopic plastic fibres. Data from the World Resources Institute showed that more than 130 million Indians live in areas where groundwater is contaminated.

So, it is possible that the water in your tap is highly contaminated.

Stating data from the Central Pollution Control Board, the study also observed that India generated 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste per day. Out of this, only 9,205 tonnes were recycled.

And with a 7,500-km coastline, India was projected to become the world’s fifth-largest source of marine plastic waste by 2025!

At a time when we are struggling with irregular monsoons and scarcity of fresh drinking water across the country, these figures don’t really paint a hopeful future.

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Health Hazards?

Previous studies have highlighted the wide-spread plastic pollution in the water bodies. This suggested that humans were consuming microplastics via contaminated seafood.

But, the recent study has raised two primary concerns.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, which conducted the research, said there were nanoparticles present in the tap water samples which couldn’t be measured and such nanoparticles could also penetrate human organs via cells.

Speaking to The Quint, Rajarshi Banerjee, senior scientist at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said:

Often, microplastics or its derivatives can cross the cell barrier. They are sure to show toxicity to cellular activities, which, in turn, may gradually multiply to larger metabolic disorders/problems. These being endocrine disrupting substances, may show such detrimental effects too.
Rajarshi Banerjee, Senior Scientist

While he insisted that more detailed research was needed in this area, he added that due to the small particle size and minute quantities of microplastics present, it would take some time for such detrimental effects to be realised and correlated to microplastics.

Can Water Filters Help?

Banerjee said that as per the specifications of the water purifying service providers, the filters they provide would block micron size microplastics.

However, he isn’t sure about microplastics of nano sizes.

Microplastics of nano sizes, their derivatives and absorbed chemicals can potentially pass the water filter barrier and enter ‘purified water’. 
Rajarshi Banerjee, Senior Scientist

He said that he has yet to come across any water purifier that claims to filter microplastics.

So, what are these microplastics and where are they found?

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Microplastics and Their Source

World Environment Day: Now Microplastics Are in Your Tap Water
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)

Immediate Solution

You can avoid using plastic in any form. Though the study is yet to underline specific health concerns arising from microplastics, prevention can be the only way forward for now.

Only by curbing the use of plastic can we curb the spread of microplastics. The management of plastic waste must also be regulated on a large scale.

Use of microplastic beads in daily care products or in fibres and textiles need to be restricted.
Rajarshi Banerjee, Senior Scientist
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(This article is being republished for World Environment Day on 5 June, it was originally published on 11 September, 2017.)

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