Most tap water is contaminated with plastic, scientists discover

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Most of the world’s tap water is contaminated with plastic, a large-scale scientific investigation has discovered. 

Microplastic particles are flowing out of taps “from New York to New Delhi”, according to research from Orb Media, a non-profit organisation, and the University of Minnesota.

Eighty-three per cent of tap water samples taken from around the world were found to be polluted with microplastic fibres. A 500ml glass of water in the US contains on average 4.8 fibres. The number is lower in Europe, at 1.9 fibres. 

Microplastics are tiny plastic fragments. They’ve been shown to release toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses when consumed by fish and mammals.  

According to Orb, the microscopic fibres might come from everyday abrasion of clothes in the wash, paints and tire dust. These contaminate local water sources, or treatment and distribution systems, entering the water cycle. 

In Europe, 72 per cent of samples taken were contaminated with plastic (PA)

Plastic does not biodegrade, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, meaning microscopic particles can easily enter the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs. 

In Europe, 72 per cent of water samples taken were polluted with plastic. In the US, this figure rises to 94 per cent. 

In a statement on its website, Orb said: “The only way to keep plastic out of the air, water, and soil is to radically rethink its design, uses, sale, and disposal.”

It suggests waste-to-energy systems, which turn plastic and organic waste into gas and liquid fuels, may be the answer to the problem, as well as manufacturers ensuring plastic packaging can be recycled.

Plastic microbeads, found in face exfoliators in toothpastes, were banned in the UK this year after campaigners warned microplastics were making their way into waterways and being eaten by wildlife. 

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