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Earth Medicine United States Science Technology

Plastic Fibers Found In 83 Percent of World's Tap Water, Study Reveals (theguardian.com) 210

Robotron23 writes: Research published by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism group, has revealed that microplastics have contaminated high proportions of drinking water and bottled water. Samples from the United States tested positive in 94% of instances, while Europe's contamination averages around 72%. Tests were undertaken at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, with lead researcher Dr. Anne Marie Mahon noting the risk of plastics carrying bacteria, and commenting: "In terms of fibers, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems." As for the culprit, the report mentions the atmosphere as one obvious source, "with fibers shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets." Another potential source is tumble dryers, "with almost 80% of U.S. households having dryers that usually vent to the open air." Overall, the investigation by Orb Media found that 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers.
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Plastic Fibers Found In 83 Percent of World's Tap Water, Study Reveals

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  • Something's up with that. I would suspect that 99.9995% of US dryers vent to open air.

    • 80% of households, not 80% of households with dryers.

      • Even so....are people now wearing plastic clothes??

        All my stuff is cotton....what is considered "plastic" clothing that a dryer would vent dangerous lint out...?

        • You do realise that nylon has been in use in clothing for 70 years or so? And that synthetic polyamide is only one of many synthetic fiber types?

          • Ok....I wasn't thinking of nylon as "plastic"...just didn't hit the brain right. When I think plastic, I think water bottle or even vinyl type stuff.....
            • Well, you certainly have heard of polyester clothing. That is exactly the same plastic that is used for water bottles, this is what makes bottle reclycling so practical.

    • Something's up with that. I would suspect that 99.9995% of US dryers vent to open air.

      Don't you have non venting driers in the US? They're substantially more expensive, but also much much more efficient.

      • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

        Nope, we even have central vacuum cleaners that throw the air outside.

      • by jbengt ( 874751 )
        If by more efficient you mean they take twice as long to dry a load half the size.
        • Re:80%? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Jon Peterson ( 1443 ) <jon@snowdrif[ ]rg ['t.o' in gap]> on Thursday September 07, 2017 @11:26AM (#55153465) Homepage

          Modern ones use the latent heat of condensation to warm incoming air, saving on electricity. They are about twice as efficient in power terms as a 'normal' dryer, although they do take longer to dry clothes.

          • by dj245 ( 732906 )

            Modern ones use the latent heat of condensation to warm incoming air, saving on electricity. They are about twice as efficient in power terms as a 'normal' dryer, although they do take longer to dry clothes.

            Which means the clothes tumble longer, which increases wear. It's easy to calculate kW-hr saved per year. Evaluating the cost of clothes wearing out slightly faster is a more difficult problem that most people won't be considering. Maybe it is worth it, maybe not.

        • If by more efficient you mean

          I mean "by using less electricity", which is a pretty common usage.

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      Mine vents to the garage. House was built in '81. Seems like they should have known better by then. I'll admit it's sort of nice in the winter, but it's a terrible idea in the summer.

      My upstairs bathroom fan vented to the attic, rather than out the roof. Again, I understand that was acceptable at the time, but it seems like a bad idea and we fixed that one.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @12:35AM (#55151657)

    First we had the story of fish eating plastic; and now there's this one about humans drinking plastic. Plus we've still got three more days for the climactic ending - I can't wait!

  • This isn't new (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 07, 2017 @12:37AM (#55151671)

    Here's an article from 2011

    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/laundry-lint-pollutes-worlds-oceans

    Also from 2011

    http://morgellonsdiseaseawareness.com/morgellons_photo_galleries/morgellons_fibers_in_water_supply

    These fibers might actually explain Morgellon's Disease which is currently understood as a form of delusional parasitosis.

    The second link says filtration and boiling don't work but reverse osmosis removes 95%.

    If only bacteria could be engineered to eat this shit...

    • Re:This isn't new (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 07, 2017 @03:57AM (#55152061)

      I will gladly hear how plastic particles can get through a nano filtration or reverse osmosis filtration as physically there is no way a micro meter particule size can go through the pore size (you understand that for reverse osmosis even Na+ ion cannot go through it....). Is it some form of quantic tunnelling not seen before?

      • They don't have to get through the filter; the filter is likely shedding plastic as well at a certain scale roughly proportionate to this.

    • Just because the fibers are ubiquitous doesn't mean that Morgellon's isn't delusional. Wifi is everywhere, but it doesn't mean the people that are allergic to wifi when the activity light is on aren't delusional.
    • If only bacteria could be engineered to eat this shit...

      Hell yeah... evolution!

      Newly-evolved microbes may be breaking down the plastics polluting our oceans

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sci... [dailymail.co.uk]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 07, 2017 @12:38AM (#55151673)

    Directly looking at the website of the researchers indicates to me that this hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet. And the quality of the post is egregious: "83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers" means practically nothing if we do not also get to know the size of the samples versus the amount and size of the fibers, and their composition.

    The actual research, if and when published, could be very interesting. This grab for views --- not so much.

  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @12:58AM (#55151715)

    My home is fed by my own private well and the water gets filtered by a reverse osmosis filtration system. Certainly not foolproof, but plastic fibers are likely the least of your worries in the public water system. I'd be a lot more concerned about pharmaceuticals in the water supply....like anti-depressants.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like we (US especially) need to upgrade our water treatment facilities. Contact your representatives.

  • by bjdevil66 ( 583941 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @01:44AM (#55151817)

    Plastic of all shapes and sizes is literally everywhere people go. Take a walk around your neighborhood sometime and just start picking up any random garbage you see. You'll be surprised just how much you pick up in just a few hundred square feet. Plastic pieces of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Bags. Lids. Shards. Parts of toys. Unidentified stuff...

    The stranger part to me is that so many educated people don't care at all about the issue, even though it is just as important as climate change and other forms of toxic pollution due to the enormous amounts of it we're putting into the environment every day. Even here, there will be many comments along the lines of, "Yeah, yeah, plastic in the water is bad - but I'm more worried about X in the water."

  • Pointless (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Means nothing without mentioning concentrations. By the same logic 99% of water is also contaminated with uranium and cyanide.

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @02:10AM (#55151883)
    It does not matter if they found 4.9 microfiber of size below of 2.5 micrometer. The question is : does it have a significant impact on biological activity of human at those level, and is it below or above the legally set quantity ? That is the correct question. If the answer is no, then my own comment is "meh ?".
    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
      Plastics that don't dissolve in stomach acid won't get absorbed by the intestines, so I imagine they'll just pass through. Breathing it in is probably worse for you. Some fibrous materials like asbestos can cause cancer. The complication is how many different kinds of plastics there are, some might be entirely harmless, others not so much.
    • It does not matter if they found 4.9 microfiber of size below of 2.5 micrometer. The question is : does it have a significant impact on biological activity of human at those level, and is it below or above the legally set quantity ? That is the correct question. If the answer is no, then my own comment is "meh ?".

      Meh? this stuff is fucking up the world's marine ecosystems in a big way which is not really something they need in addition to overfishing, toxic dumping, increasing salinity and acidity, ... the list goes on ... all of this is resulting in a major extinction event. You must be one of those a Republican voting Fox News drones who thinks nothing nature does that is detrimental to life on this planet is important unless nature is doing it on your golf course and it's killing off the grass.

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      The question is : does it have a significant impact on biological activity of human at those level, and is it below or above the legally set quantity ?

      Well, that would require a more deeper analysis into the effectiveness of the human lymphatic system to remove impurities from the body and the results might be... less sensationalist...

      • Oh I dunno... I'd actually be concerned if it made it far enough into your body that the lymphatic system got involved at all...
        • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

          Oh I dunno... I'd actually be concerned if it made it far enough into your body that the lymphatic system got involved at all...

          You know what's remarkable to me? We are relatives of Chimpanzees and Bonobos. Once upon a time we were out in the wild eating rancid raw meat and drinking from contaminated water sources on a regular basis much the same as other animals. From an evolutionary standpoint, we evolved to be able to deal with a lot of impurities being filtered out as a matter of survival. Now granted, we do see evidence that at some point we have lost some of our ability to do this. For example, our appendixes no longer wo

          • I've read that you can slowly acclimate your microflora to increasingly rancid meat. But you see the same with, say, the life expectancy of a well cared for dog vs a wolf.
          • There is quite a difference between substances we evolved to deal with ingesting over millions of years and new foreign materials though. I would think that as a rule, we'd want to err on the side of "this is unsafe until proven so" rather than the other way around.
          • While water is usually not pure,
            it is astonishing how pure water in the wild actually is.

            Water that is polluted with feces and other human waste: that is a complete different story.

  • The contamination source was a combination of the people who collected the water samples (not researchers, just people all around the world), the containers in which the water was stored and transported, and the research lab which was not up to standard at all.

  • Academics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Thursday September 07, 2017 @08:10AM (#55152583)

    Fucking academics who have never left a schoolground and gone to a construction site.

    Plastic fibers are coming from the air.... as opposed to leaching off from those miles and miles of PVC conduit water has to run through before getting to your tap.

  • I bet most of the water we drink is contaminated by dust too! We should put environment protections in place against the dust epidemic!
    • I bet most of the water we drink is contaminated by dust too! We should put environment protections in place against the dust epidemic!

      A lot of dust falls to Earth from space every day. Time for a planetary shield. Meanwhile, stop littering plastic everywhere.

  • They're not even specific as to where exactly they got the samples from. I need a PDF with a DOI number. Plastic found in plastic bottles?! NO..... Did they even test anyone's well water or or it just city drinking fountains? We don't know because they name people and only about a handful of numbers and no specifics but plenty of "We are all doomed." Maybe as a Linux user, I'm used to having source code, but I think I'd like to see the research paper for this.
  • Get a filter. A coarse + fine + reverse osmosis filter gets that micron size out.

    Add a UV steriliser for $70 or so and that kills most if the living stuff.

    I have well water with 100-140ppm of solids and my filter makes it 2ppm water.

    It is a PITA though. Super slow even with dual osmosis cartridges it takes 2 minutes to fill a pitcher.

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @09:30AM (#55152853) Homepage
    In March I installed one of these undersink filters [rainfresh.ca] which is rated at 0.3 micron. That's a particularly good one unless you go with reverse osmosis. 0.3 micron will filter out bacteria, but not viruses. Obviously it will filter out these 10 micron plastic fibers too. So far the filter has lasted this long with no change. Even a more basic undersink filter will typically filter down to 5 microns [rainfresh.ca].
  • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

    It's got vitamin C in it.

  • I'm just curious, what's the issue with ingesting plastics? They exist in the environment because they are very stable, what is the issue?

    Sometimes I think folks get all crazy about "man made" == "Not Natural" == "Bad for you" assumptions. This isn't always true.

  • I don't know if plastic microfibres are somehow different than regular plastic, but considering that the water in plastic water bottles always tastes like plastic, I don't know how big a difference it makes. The taste isn't some homeopathic magic. I mean, if it tastes like plastic, that means you are drinking plastic.

  • Is there something particularly insidious about plastic as a substance that makes it harmful?

    We animals have evolved for millennia breathing/eating/drinking dust of all sorts of sizes.

    The human body is not perfect, but nevertheless amazing in its ability to keep the good stuff, dispense with the bad stuff.

    Is there something about plastic dust that hurts us more than other dust? Or is this just another family of particulates that happen to be out there now, where (for example) soot used to be?

  • Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour

    Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying

    Couple other potential concerns listed as well. Articles do sometimes contain useful context.

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