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83% Of The World’s Tap Water Contains Plastic Fibres: Study

Microplastics were found in water from five different continents.

09/06/2017 17:05 EDT | Updated 09/07/2017 10:04 EDT

The vast majority of the planet's tap water is contaminated by microscopic plastic fibres, a new study claims.

Researchers for the study, which was conducted by Orb and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, tested tap water samples from around the world and found that 83 per cent of the samples contained plastic microfibres.

The rate varied among regions, but every country tested contained fibres in at least 70 per cent of its samples.

The United States had the highest plastic pollution rate, with 94 per cent of its water samples testing positive.

The United States had the highest plastic pollution rate, with 94 per cent of its water samples testing positive. This included water taken from New York's Trump Tower, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several Congress buildings.

The U.S. was closely followed by Lebanon and India. Countries like Germany and the United Kingdom had some of the lowest rates, but even their samples tested positive most of the time.

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Journalists from Orb (a non-profit data journalism organization), scientists and trained volunteers collected over 150 water samples across five continents, and from cities big and small for the project.

The theory is that particles get into water through many common means. They rub off clothing every time it gets washed in the machine, they leech off food and drink storage containers, break off from larger pieces of plastic, and pollute the environment in a multitude of other ways, according to the study.

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"There are certain commons that connect us all to each other, air, water, soil, and what we have universally found time and time again is if you contaminate any of those commons, it gets in everything," said Sherri Mason, a State University of New York at Fredonia expert who worked with Orb.

Canada has already banned microbeads, one type of microplastic used in skincare products, last year, and the ban is due to go into effect starting in 2018. Environment Canada imposed the ban after a study indicated microbeads are toxic and find their way into marine life.

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Previous studies have looked into how microfibres from plastic can affect fish, birds, and other types of animals that can go on to enter the human food chain, but Orb's study states it is the first to look at how microfibres could be entering the human body directly through drinking water.

The data on the impact of microplastics on humans is still lacking, but research on animals has suggested the particles can cause cancer, hormone disorders and other problems when they release chemicals during digestion. Plastic isn't biodegradable either, so scientists fear it will continue to break down into smaller fragments that can pierce cells and travel through lymph nodes and other organs.

"We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it's having on wildlife, to be concerned," Mason told The Guardian. "If it's impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it's not going to somehow impact us?"

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Bottled water isn't a safe alternative either. Researchers tested American bottled water too and found it also contained microplastics.

The study emphasized that further research is needed, especially because of the low sample size.

"This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one," Hussam Hawwa, the CEO of the environmental resource consultancy Difaf, said in the study.

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