According to original research by Orb Media, a nonprofit digital newsroom in Washington, DC, much of the tap water around the globe is contaminated by microplastics. Working with researchers at the State University of New York and the University of Minnesota, Orb tested 159 drinking water samples from cities and towns in 14 countries on five continents. The researchers found that almost all of it was contaminated with tiny plastic particles.
The U.S. had the highest contamination rate of all the countries studied. Of 33 tap water samples from across the United States, 94 percent tested positive for microplastics. Tap water from the US Capitol complex, Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, and the Trump Grill in New York all contained microscopic plastic fibers. Two out of three tap water samples from Los Angeles contained plastic fibers.
Other sampled locations included: Delhi, India (82 percent); Kampala, Uganda (81 percent); Jakarta, Indonesia (76 percent); Quito, Ecuador (75 percent); and Europe (72 percent). The global average was 83 percent. Samples were collected by scientific professionals, journalists and trained volunteers following standardized protocols.
Microplastics are microscopic plastic fibers formed when larger pieces of plastic are broken down. Some of these pieces have broken down into smaller and smaller pieces over decades. Only a small percentage of our plastic products are recycled. More than 40 percent is used just once, sometimes for less than a minute, and discarded.
Many of the objects in our lives are built with plastic. The world creates about 300 million tons of plastic each year. A recent study estimates that over 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide since the 1950s. Around 8 million tons of plastic enters our waterways every year.
The microscopic plastic fibers can now be found everywhere. Washing machines can produce hundreds of thousands of microplastics fibers per cycle. Surveys have found plastic fibers inside fish sold at markets from Southeast Asia to eastern Africa to California. Microplastics have even been found inside bottled water.
It’s not clear whether microplastics pose a danger to humans and they have not been tied to any particular health concern. According to an EPA spokeswoman, the U.S. doesn’t have a safety standard for plastic in drinking water. If the plastic fibers are in tap water, they’re also likely in foods prepared with water. No analytical methods exist to identify microplastics in food.