What was once an issue primarily associated with the pollution of our oceans may now be a grave concern for human health, as a new study has revealed troubling information about the world’s tap water. According to an investigation by Orb Media with help from a researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, 83 percent of the world’s tap water contains microscopic plastic fibers — and in the United States, 94.4 percent of the water supply has been tainted.
Water samples for the study were taken at sites such as Congress buildings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. America’s plastic contamination levels are the highest in the world. Lebanon (93.8 percent) and India (82.4 percent) were the next highest.
“Microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals,” the study says. Though they can’t say for sure, scientists believe these tiny fibers come from a wide array of sources: clothes in the washer; tire dust washed into sewers; paint chips from road markings, ships, and houses; mishandled plastic waste; and more. Each year, over half of the country’s water-waste bypasses treatment and escapes into the environment.
Experts say if plastic fibers are in your water, they’re also certainly in your food — whether meals are from your kitchen or the supermarket. Though they may not be visible to the human eye — measuring at one one-thousandth of one one-thousandth of a millimeter — these particles can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to lymph nodes and other bodily organs, causing cancer and other health complications.
The authors of the report list a number of things consumers can do to help the environment and aid human health: Take reusable shopping bags to the store instead of plastic bags; employ reusable containers for packing sandwiches; skip the straw or use a metal one; don’t wear fleece as much (a single jacket can shed as many as 1,900 synthetic fibers per wash); buy a bamboo or flax toothbrush; capture paintbrush rinse-water in a jar with warm soap and dispose of it at a landfill; purchase glass beverage bottles or reusable ones; and carpool.
People also tend to create a ton of plastic waste at social gatherings — cutlery, tablecloths, and banners — so here are 20 ways to make your parties more eco-friendly.