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microplastics

  • Microplastics in Bottled Water

    Orb Media, a D.C.-based group of investigative journalists, recently published Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us, highlighting the global problem of microplastics - tiny bits of plastic measuring less than 5mm that are highly prevalent in the environment which are released when larger pieces of discarded plastic breakdown — in drinking water that flows from our taps.

    Now, in a follow-up investigation, they reveal that bottled water fares no better. In fact, after comparing the levels of microplastics in bottled water to that in tap water, they found that tap water was the healthier choice.

    For the study, a team of researchers from the State University of New York led by Sherri Mason tested 259 bottles of bottled water from nine countries. The researchers screened the contents of the bottles for plastic using the Nile Red method, a technique that was specifically developed to quickly detect plastic particles in seawater. The technique involves adding a red dye to the water, which adheres to free-floating bits of plastic, rendering them fluorescent under certain lighting conditions.

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    After filtering the dyed bottled water samples, Sherri Mason and her team set about counting every piece of plastic measuring more than 100 microns — about the diameter of a strand of human hair. They found microplastics in 93% of the samples tested, with an average of 325 microplastic particles (10.4 > 100 micron; and 314 < 100 micron in size) per liter of bottled water tested.

    "For microplastic debris around 100 microns in size, about the diameter of a human hair, bottled water samples contained nearly twice as many pieces of microplastic per liter (10.4) than the tap water samples (4.45)," according to the new report.

    These figures are twice as high as the levels of microplastics detected in their previous study on tap water. Yet, many consumers believe that bottled water is cleaner and healthier than tap water, a belief which research has shown to be unfounded.

    Water Bottle Mineral Water Plastic Bottle Pet Water

    While this study and the resulting Orb Media report, Plus Plastic: Microplastics Found in Global Bottled Water, has not been published in a scientific journal, and therefore has not undergone the peer review process, in a BBC article covering this topic, scientific experts weighed in.

    According to Dr Andrew Mayes, a research scientist from the University of Anglia who pioneered the Nile Red method used to quantify plastic particles in the is study, the technique used involves "very high quality analytical chemistry" and he in fact considers these results to be "quite conservative".

    Michael Walker, a founding board member of the UK Food Standards Agency who also provides consulting services to the Office of the UK Government Chemist, agrees that the work is robust and the Nile Red method is sound.

    Both experts agree that while the particles measuring less than 100 microns had not been positively identified as plastics, there is a good likelihood that they are, given the fact that possible alternatives were not likely to be found in bottled water.

    But the question remains; where is this plastic originating from? The authors believe that the contamination is originating from the plastic bottles the water is packaged in or the bottling process itself. Considering that plastic bottle caps are made from polypropylene plastic (making up 54% of the plastic found in bottled water), one possibility could be that particles are shed into the contents as the bottle is opened.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, in terms of safety, bottled water is generally on a par with tap water. Bottled water is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while tap water is regulated by the US Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). So the decision to drink bottled water rather than tap water is largely a matter of personal preference.

    Perhaps the safest option would be to simply filter any water that you drink to remove any microplastics or other contaminants that may be lurking in your drinking water.

  • The Invisible Plague: Microplastics Now Contaminate Drinking Water

    A new report, titled "Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us", recently released by Orb Media, has shockingly revealed that microplastics — tiny bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters long that are the product of industrial waste and discarded plastic consumer products, which are now so prevalent everywhere around the world — contaminates more than 80% of tap water globally.

    Note Regarding our Berkey Systems: The Berkey has yet to be tested for microplastics removal. The study states, "There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.”  With that being said, we know that the berkey can filter down to 2 microns and less, so until testing is done, we can only state that the berkey would be filtering out more of these microplastics than your town's municipal water filtering system.

    "Our exclusive research found 83 percent of the tap water samples from 14 countries are contaminated with microscopic plastic fibers," said Molly Bingham, founder and CEO, Orb Media. "Scientists say they don't really know how these microplastics reach our taps or what the health risks might be. But microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals from the marine environment, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals. I am concerned by the implications of our research. At the very least, I hope that our work triggers large scale, global research on plastic contamination and the ramifications for human health — particularly that of children."

    The drinking water study, which was conceived by Orb Media, was designed and conducted by Dr Sherri Mason from the State University of New York, Fredonia, and Elizabeth Wattenberg from the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, who supervised the testing of drinking water samples conducted by research scientist, Mary Kosuth. Kosuth analyzed 159 500ml tap water samples collected from 14 different countries from five continents around the world, including the US, UK and Ireland, as well as countries in Europe, Central America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

    Tiny bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters long that are the product of industrial waste and discarded plastic consumer products, which are now so prevalent everywhere around the world — contaminates more than 80% of tap water globally. Big Berkey Water Filters Tiny bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters long that are the product of industrial waste and discarded plastic consumer products, which are now so prevalent everywhere around the world — contaminates more than 80% of tap water globally. Big Berkey Water Filters

    Reporting from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States, the reporters take an in depth look at how plastic waste has taken over the world, and highlight the environmental and health issues resulting from this ever growing plague. But their research didn't stop at just looking at the scourge of plastic waste, they also oversaw the collection and testing of water samples to create awareness of the extent of the problem and to highlight the health risk that microplastic pollution in drinking water poses to people all around the world.

    The samples show that the extent of tap water contamination is relatively evenly distributed, ranging from 72% in Europe to 94% in the US and in Beirut, Lebanon

    Sources of microplastic particles include:

    • Fibers from synthetic clothing materials in washing wastewater
    • Airborne fibers from synthetic clothing materials due to abrasion
    • Tire dust from roads washing into streams and rivers
    • Paint dust from road markings, house paint and ship paint
    • Secondary microplastics — smaller bits of plastic from large plastic products as they break down
    • Microbeads found in facial scrubs and other cosmetic products

    "Since the problem of plastic was created exclusively by human beings through our indifference, it can be solved by human beings by paying attention to it," said Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. "Now what we need is a determination to get it done before it gets us."

    What Can You Do?

    The report lists 7 things that we can do to help address the problem:

    1. Say no to plastic bags — take a reusable shopping bag with you when you go shopping.
    2. Refuse straws — plastic straws are another big contributor to plastic waste, what's more they are completely unnecessary. Skip them or keep your own personal reusable metal straw in your bag.
    3. Wash your fleece clothing less frequently, and use a filter on your washing machine to trap any microfibers that come off in the wash.
    4. Share lifts or use public transport to cut down the amount of tire dust produced on the roads.
    5. Opt for an eco-friendly toothbrush made from natural materials such as bamboo rather than a plastic version, which will take years to break down once discarded.
    6. Take care when rinsing paint brushes — rinse them in a can or jar rather than in the sink, then discard that together with the paint responsibly at the landfill. Better still, use a natural paint, such as milk paint, which looks great and is environmentally friendly.
    7. Make use of a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottled water. Some water bottles, such as the Berkey Sport, are even fitted with a filter to help filter out and reduce any microplastic fibers present in the tap water.

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