Drinking microplastics is probably fine

Microplastics in drinking water is not yet dangerous for human beings says WHO

Microplastics in drinking water is not yet dangerous for human beings says WHO

Dr Pantos, who is co-leading a five-year MBIE funded project investigating the impacts of microplastics in New Zealand says while there does not appear to be an immediate health risk posed by drinking water, the data is extremely limited. Industrial effluents, degraded plastic waste and atmospheric deposition are some other secondary sources of microplastics.

Further research was needed to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health.

"We know that these types of materials cause stress to small organisms", he said.

It said all drinking water - both from the tap and in bottles - now contained microplastic particles, but the direct effects on the body of consuming them are not yet known.

Counterintuitively, the report said larger microplastics (those bigger than 150 micrometres - about the diameter of a hair) are of least concern because they pass straight through the human body. Absorption of very small microplastic particles, including the nano size range may, however, be higher. There are studies that have shown the presence of as much as 1000 particles per litre of bottled water. "It is essential to understand how and where exposure to microplastics is most likely, and to understand any possible health risks as a result of this exposure".

Instead, WHO suggests that diseases associated with untreated or poorly treated drinking water should remain a more urgent priority for public health officials. In a newly published report, WHO scientists say the limitations of current data mean it is hard to gauge the potential impact on human health if concentrations of microplastics in drinking water continue to rise.

In a report published Wednesday, the United Nations health agency said the minuscule plastics are "ubiquitous in the environment" and have been found in drinking water, including both tap and bottled, most likely as the result of treatment and distribution systems. "The main conclusion is, I think, if you are a consumer drinking bottled water or tap water, you shouldn't necessarily be concerned". The authors of the report admit the current state of research is not good enough, and they are calling on scientists to design better and more reliable studies to figure out how plastic affects our health and how we can safely remove it from our drinking water.

People need to prevent rising plastic pollution around the world, she added.

"But we should not relax either - there are too many unknowns about how microplastics impact health, and the WHO report strongly encourages further research in the area". In 2016, 485,000 diarrhoeal-related deaths worldwide were attributed to microbially-contaminated drinking-water and some two billion people drink faecally-contaminated water every day, it said.

"Although wastewater effluent is recognized as a key source of microplastic pollution in freshwater, pathogens and other chemicals associated with the lack of effective sewage treatment are of greater concern", the World Health Organization said.