Microscopic plastic fibers are pouring out of household faucets from New York to Delhi, according to original research by Orb Media, a nonprofit digital newsroom in Washington, DC.
Working with researchers at the State University of New York and the University of Minnesota, Orb tested 159 drinking water samples from cities and towns on five continents.
Eighty-three percent of those samples, including tap water from the US Capitol complex, Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, and the Trump Grill in New York, contained microscopic plastic fibers.
If synthetic fibers are in tap water, they’re also likely in foods prepared with water, such as bread, pasta, soup and baby formula, researchers say.
“This should knock us into our senses,” Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a written statement. “We knew that this plastic is coming back to us through our food chain. Now we see it is coming back to us through our drinking water. Do we have a way out?” Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, plans to launch an initiative against plastic waste later this year.
A growing body of research has established the presence of microscopic plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, freshwater, soil and air.
This study is the first, however, to show plastic contamination in tap water from sources around the world, according to Orb.
Scientists say they don’t know how plastic fibers reach household taps — or, what the health implications might be. Some suspect they originate in synthetic clothing like sportswear, or in textiles like carpets and upholstery.
Experts are concerned these fibers may transfer toxins, acting as a kind of shuttle for dangerous chemicals from the freshwater environment into the human body.
In animal studies, “it became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release,” said Richard Thompson, the associate dean for research at Plymouth University.
“We have enough data from looking at wildlife and the impacts that it's having on wildlife” to be concerned, said professor Sherri Mason, a microplastics research pioneer who supervised Orb’s study. “If it's impacting them, then how do we think that it's not going to somehow impact us?”