The World Health Organization has recently been trying to figure out how ‘microplastics’ in drinking water affect our health.
407 million tons of plastic came into existence in 2015. Plastic is not biodegradable; it breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic over a very long period. Hence, in the environment surrounding us, there are a vast number of pieces of plastic. There are ‘microplastics’ included within our drinking water too.
The WHO compiled a review recently consisting of 50 studies in which scientists studied microplastics found in drinking, fresh and wastewater.
It is possible for microplastics to enter into the bloodstream through the gut, theoretically. Whether this is possible and what effects it has on the human body can not be determined as of yet.
The WHO’s review figures out the effects on the body because no studies provide concrete results yet.
Some Hazards to Look Out For
The WHO points out three possible ways in which microplastics can affect health:
- physical: internal organs and structures damaged through microplastics entering the blood stream
- chemical: plastic additives enter drinking water and interfere with the chemical balance of the blood
- biofilm: microplastics might have different microorganisms that may create harmful colonies.
The evidence says that the physical aspect is of the most pressing concern and is also most likely. Some analysis says that microplastics smaller than 150 micrometers may enter the bloodstream, but larger ones do not. Nanosized particles may also be absorbed, but not enough evidence exists to support this claim.
Close to no data is available on this topic because the science community’s interest in plastic is new and recent. There was a lack of interest because of less funding.
The Dangers of Microplastics in Drinking Water
When studying the toxicology reviews on microplastics, research was, again, limited.
The few studies that exist say that very high exposure to these microplastic can have high toxicity levels, but lower levels of exposure are harmless.
Dr. Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health and the WHO, commented on the review. She says that there is an urgent need to understand more about microplastics because they are increasing exponentially in number in the environment. Plastic pollution around the globe is on the rise, and hence, microplastics need to be the subject of more research.
At current levels in drinking water, it may not be a considerable threat. However, we need to find out more.
Towards the end of the report, the WHO wanted to focus on water contaminated with human feces. Available data tells us that the treatment of wastewater can remove up to 90% of microplastics.
Due to the fact that so many people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, they ingest wastewater that has more microplastics.
The WHO recommends a reduction in the usage of plastic around the world because of its detrimental effects. Even if somehow they are kept from entering the water supply, their existence in the environment is also dangerous.