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Microplastics are defined as very small pieces of plastic (less than five millimetres in length, but often much less and usually microscopic) that pollute our environment. These microplastic particles can vary in density, chemical composition, size and shape.
A subset of very small microplastics — those most likely to be found in our drinking water — are often called nanoplastics.
The danger microplastics pose to marine and aquatic life is commonly understood, although recent studies have shown them to be present in tap and bottled water drinking samples.
After learning about the ubiquity of microplastics, you’ll probably want to know about any potential danger to human health. A 2017 study hypothesised that the cumulative effect of ingesting microplastic fibres could be toxic. So, are microplastics dangerous to us? Do they simply pass through our bodies?
Unfortunately, there is no concrete answer. Scientists and researchers are yet to gain a deep understanding of the specific effect of microplastics on human health; evidence remains patchy and ambiguous.
The impact of microplastics to our health is a relatively new area of study, and much is unfortunately unknown — as the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges in their information sheet.
According to the WHO, ‘there is insufficient information to draw firm conclusions on the toxicity of plastic particles’ as they are ingested by the human body. That said, they assert that no reliable evidence suggests that it is a concern.
The WHO notes that the ‘health impacts of microplastics following ingestion are not well studied, with no human studies on ingested microplastics’. As such, more research on the topic is needed.
Microplastics can come from a range of sources. This can include larger plastic items that have broken down, wastewater effluent, byproducts of the manufacturing industry, cleaning products and even dust from car tyres; plastic bottles have also been identified as a source.
Unfortunately, microplastics particles are ubiquitous in our environment. They can find their way into surface water and freshwater which, after passing through treatment facilities, can end up coming out of our taps due to their small size — despite a number of purification steps.
“There are certain commons that connect us all to each other: air, water, soil. What we have universally found, time and time again, is if you contaminate any of those commons, it gets in everything.”
Sherri A. Mason, PhD.. Chair, Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, The State University of New York at Fredonia.
These tiny plastic particles are almost everywhere. This has, quite understandably, led to questions about the impact of microplastics on human health.
What’s the current evidence for microplastics in drinking water?
Well, one study found that microplastic fibres are contaminating 83 percent of tap water samples across the same world.
In the report, of samples from European countries — including the UK, Germany and France — 72 percent contained microscopic plastic fibres. The percentage is as high as 94 in the United States. There was an average of 1.9 microplastic fibres in a 500ml sample of European tap water; 4.8 in the US.
Not only that, but research in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology found that humans are consuming between 39,000 to 52,000 pieces of microplastic per year. If you meet your hydration requirement through tap water, this rises by 4,000 plastic pieces per year. If you do so with bottled water, you ingest an additional 90,000.
Worryingly, the author of the study suggests that these conclusions are actually underestimates.
Elsewhere, 93% of bottled water samples were found to have some level of microplastic contamination. The pollution likely comes from packaging and the bottling process.
The message, therefore? Microplastics are very common in bottled water, and studies have identified microplastics in tap water, but this is less abundant.
Armed with this evidence, as well as the uncertain effects on our bodies, you might be asking how to get rid of microplastics from the water you’re ingesting on a daily basis.
Firstly, by avoiding bottled water, you’re drastically cutting down your ingestion of microplastics and by choosing the correct type of water filtration system, you can heavily reduce the volume of microplastics in your drinking water.
How do water filters remove microplastics? With most particles measuring over 0.5 microns in size — bigger than the pores in the ceramic structure of a water filter — a large volume of microplastic fibres will be trapped and therefore removed.
So, to avoid microplastics, avoiding bottled water and filtering your tap water is a wise choice.
Doulton® offers a range of products including under-counter, counter-top, and gravity-fed water filter housings, as well as a variety of ceramic candles and water treatment cartridges for removal of specific contaminants such as microplastics from tap water.
Whilst under-counter and counter-top filters are ideal for use in the kitchen at home, gravity-fed water filters are the perfect solution for use outdoors or in locations with no reliable mains water supply.
The investment in a water filtration system represents a cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable alternative to bottled to water.
To learn more about microplastic filters for drinking water, explore our product range. As well as removing up to 99.99% of common contaminants, Doulton® ceramic filters retain the natural, healthy minerals that make your drinking water taste great.
Looking to invest in a water filter to remove microplastics? At Doulton, we’re your people. With over a century of history when it comes to all things water, say hello to your water filtration specialists.
Please click here to view our water filter performance table for more information on how our filters perform when it comes to reducing and removing microplastics.