We have often written about the health benefits of drinking clean water, and the necessity of using a good-quality filter if the water from your tap is not up to scratch.
Many of our customers are concerned only with removing fluoride, though others – like us – note an aversion to unnatural components such as oestradiol, trace pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, chloramine – the list goes on and on.
And to that list we can now add plastics.
Plastics in Tap Water: An Emerging Problem
The news that plastic fibres were showing up in increasing quantities in tap water broke a few months back. The long-ranging investigation, carried out by Orb Media, led to calls from scientists for meaningful research on the risks of ingesting these tiny plastic particles. Little wonder, right?
Plastic pollution – and its toxic impact on humans and wildlife – is of course no secret. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, by 2050 our oceans will be so choked with plastic that they’ll contain more plastic than fish by weight. This is not a nascent phenomenon.
That said, few would have anticipated that microscopic plastic fibres could be feeding into our drinking water. Our oceans, yes, our estuaries and rivers and lakes, but not the clear liquid that is available to us at the turn of a tap.
The study by Orb Media is the first of its kind. The organisation, working in tandem with a researcher from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, was shocked to learn that over 80% of samples collected on five continents tested positive for plastic fibres. Even water derived from natural springs contained incredibly high levels of contamination.
The United States had the worst contamination rate (94%) – worse even than India and Lebanon. Ironically, plastic fibres were discovered in tap water taken from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.
European countries had the lowest rate of contamination, although this was hardly cause for celebration given that 74% of water tested still contained plastic. The average number of fibres in each 500ml sample was 4.8 for the States and 1.9 for Europe, and the analysis caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size.
Why Should We Worry About Microplastics in Water?
It’s obvious that we should care about plastic pollution in general: it ruins our groundwater, poisons our marine and plant life and piles up in landfills, where it releases hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere. But some might wonder why we should care about microscopic fragments entering our water supply.
This can be answered rather easily by pointing out that plastic is composed of major toxic compounds known to cause illness.
One such compound is BPA, a notorious endocrine disruptor, while vinyl chloride and styrene monomers are mutagenic and carcinogenic.
Many people don’t for a second realise that harmful elements such as solvents, catalysts, initiators and polymerisation additives form such a large part of plastic production.
Furthermore, microplastics leach and absorb toxic chemicals from the environment which are linked to cancer and other health conditions.
In fact, microplastics are more prone to absorb toxic elements than larger fragments. They can also attract bacteria found in sewage, with a greater number of pathogens found downstream of wastewater treatment facilities.
As Orb Media highlighted in their report, studies prove that such particles can migrate through the intestinal wall, travel to the lymph nodes and other organs, and penetrate cells.
Of course, it’s likely you are already ingesting microplastics in food, since they have been found in a third of British-caught fish, from haddock and prawns to cod and mackerel. Some species are even said to now prefer polystyrene particles over their natural food source, zooplankton! Needless to say, plankton support the entire marine food chain.
It’s not just fish either. Microplastic fibres have been found in beer, of all things. They’ve appeared, too, in honey and sugar. The mind wonders at what else we’re eating which contains microscopic kernels of plastic.
Plastic in our water, in our seafood, in the atmosphere and now in our drinking water. In lieu of a large-scale human study on the dangers of ingesting nano-scale plastic particles, we can surmise without ambiguity that the implications for our health are not good.
This suspicion is shared by Frank Kelly, professor of environment health at King’s College London, who last year voiced concern to a UK parliamentary inquiry, stressing the potential cost for our lungs and circulation of inhaling microplastics.
Water Filters for Plastics: Are They Needed?
We have water filters for hard water, dirty water, water containing chemicals, hormones, chlorine and bacteria. Now people will wonder whether they also need to invest in a water filter which removes plastic particulates. After all, what is the alternative? Hoping you are in the minority whose water contains no microplastics? Staking your health on a belief that the damage caused by these unnatural elements is minimal? It is not a nice situation to be in.
A comprehensive solution exists in the form of the undersink Energy Plus Water Filter. Able to filter out plastic and other damaging particles, the four-stage filter is an economic option for those wishing to have clean-tasting water as nature intended on tap. Rigorously tested by the University of Edinburgh, the filter is made right here at Water for Health HQ using materials sourced from around the world.
Although not specifically analysed for microplastics, the Energy Plus filters out all particulates larger than 0.1 micron. As mentioned, Orb Media’s analysis turned up plastic particles of more than 2.5 microns in British tap water: these would be efficiently eliminated by the Energy Plus.
It’s perhaps ironic to mention bottled water in a blog about the dangers of microplastics in water, but the fact is, bottled water production is only increasing. More and more consumers are switching to bottled water, whether for its cleaner taste or perceived lack of contaminants. Either way, the resultant environmental impact is significant.
The Energy Plus filter, then, helps reduce both the amount of plastic you ingest and the amount you use in the form of bottled Evian, Volvic or Highland Spring. It employs four cartridges, including an ultra-filtration membrane which collects bacteria, pathogenic protozoa, rust and silt; a multi-media filter which deals with fluoride, chlorine, organic volatile compounds and heavy metals; a filter composed of natural bioceramic minerals to alkalise the water and lend it antioxidant properties; and a final filter which helps improve water structure and absorbability.
Water run through the Energy Plus also contains beneficial minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. Installation is an easy job, and cartridges need only be replaced once a year.
Incidentally, Orb’s analysis appeared to rule out bottled water as a means of avoiding microplastics, since they were detected in a number of samples of commercial brands – at least in the US. In any case, avoiding the consequences of plastic pollution by drinking bottled water clearly doesn’t make much sense.
Drinking bottled water as a means of avoiding microplastics was further discredited after a large-scale investigation found that almost all brands contained microplastics! Researchers from Orb Media, following up on their original analysis, found an average of 10 plastic particles per litre, “each larger than the width of a human hair.”
Simply put, plastic is pervading the global water supply.
Whether you think water filters for plastics are necessary or not, this latest piece of research is sure to lead to greater understanding about what constitutes good healthy water.
As an aside, the problem of microplastics more generally was highlighted in October, 2018, when tiny particles were found in human stools for the first time. Based on this study, researchers speculated that perhaps 50% of the global population might have microplastics in their stools. Clearly this is an urgent problem which must be addressed, and the sooner the better.
Using a quality water filter like the Energy Plus will ensure you limit your exposure to plastic when drinking; but as for what you can do to limit exposure from the atmosphere and food chain, more research is required.
Studies prove that microplastic particles can migrate through the intestinal wall, travel to the lymph nodes and other organs, and penetrate cells.