Microplastics in drinking water is likely not harmful to people, World Health Organization says

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a new report titled "Microplastics in drinking-water" (124-page PDF) “Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels," said Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, at WHO. "But we need to find out more. We also need to stop the rise in plastic pollution worldwide.”

From WHO's press release:

Further research is needed to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health. These include developing standard methods for measuring microplastic particles in water; more studies on the sources and occurrence of microplastics in fresh water; and the efficacy of different treatment processes.

WHO recommends drinking-water suppliers and regulators prioritize removing microbial pathogens and chemicals that are known risks to human health, such as those causing deadly diarrhoeal diseases. This has a double advantage: wastewater and drinking-water treatment systems that treat faecal content and chemicals are also effective in removing microplastics.

Wastewater treatment can remove more than 90% of microplastics from wastewater, with the highest removal coming from tertiary treatment such as filtration. Conventional drinking-water treatment can remove particles smaller than a micrometre. A significant proportion of the global population currently does not benefit from adequate water and sewage treatment. By addressing the problem of human exposure to faecally contaminated water, communities can simultaneously address the concern related to microplastics.

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Study: people could be eating a credit card's worth of microplastics per week

"On average, people could actually be ingesting approximately 5 grams of microplastics every week - that’s the equivalent of a credit card." That's according to a study by WWF, Dalberg, and the University of Newcastle, Australia.

From the report (PDF):

The long-term effects of plastic ingestion on the human body are not yet well documented. But studies have shown that beyond a certain exposure level, inhalation of plastic fibres seem to produce mild inflammation of the respiratory tract. In marine animals, higher concentrations of microplastics in their digestive and respiratory system can lead to early death. Research studies have demonstrated toxicity in vitro to lung cells, the liver, and brain cells.

Some types of plastic carry chemicals and additives with potential effects on human health. Identified health risks are due to production process residues, additives, dyes and pigments found in plastic, some of which have been shown to have an influence on sexual function, fertility and increased occurrence of mutations and cancers. Airborne microplastics may also carry pollutants from the surrounding environment. In urban environments, they may carry PAHs – molecules found in coal and tar − and metals.

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Mystery solved: why has a beach in France been blighted by washed-up parts for toy Garfield phones for more than 30 years?

For more than thirty years, the beaches of France's Iroise Marine Nature Park have been blighted by a seemingly endless stream of a highly specific form of washed-up plastic waste: part of a toy Garfield telephone -- more than 200 pieces in all.

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