By Devanshi Saxena
It is well known how harmful non-biodegradable plastic bottles are for our environment and for the planet. With millions of waste bottles being generated every minute without any possibility of recycling them all, they end up with other non-biodegradable waste materials clogging waterways. They not only harm the water and soil but also cause much damage to sentient life forms as they interfere with intricate ecosystems. However, it is not just the plastic bottles but also the packaged bottled water that should be our prime concern. According to a recent study, bottled water contains microplastics at an unexpectedly high level which might put human health at grave risk.
What are microplastics?
Plastic particles with a size ranging between 0.33 mm to 5 mm are categorised as microparticles. These can originate from a variety of sources, including microbeads from personal care products, fibres from synthetic clothing, pre-production pellets and powders, and fragments degraded from larger plastic products. According to one estimate, approximately 275,000 metric tonnes of microplastics are added to waterways every year. These smaller plastic particles, when ingested by aquatic organisms, may prove detrimental to health and pose a major threat to the marine environment.
The study cited above was commissioned by a journalistic outlet, Orb Media, and has not been published in a scientific journal. As part of the study, researchers from the State University of New York tested different brands of bottled water widely sold in the market. The sample size consisted of 259 bottles from 11 different companies from 9 different countries. Scientists used the Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water. The Nile Red dye stuck to the plastic particles which allowed the researchers to differentiate them from the water. An average of 10.4 plastic particles was found per litre of water.
Possible risks associated with drinking microplastics
The risks associated with ingesting microplastics have not yet been fully ascertained. However, considering the fact that the presence of microplastics interferes with the general behaviour and hormonal levels of marine organisms, it may also affect the human biological system adversely. The World Health Organization has listed microplastic accumulation as an emerging area of health concern. A WHO spokesperson responded to the report saying that the WHO would “review the very scarce available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment.”
There is no comprehensible solution that can solve the problem completely. However, more vigilance on the part of the civic authorities and citizens is the only way to address the urgency of the situation. Better-equipped and high-efficiency water filters could be installed by municipalities to ensure that the water flowing into pipelines is free from particulate matter. Considering the sheer amount of accumulating plastic waste, water filtration is just a temporary solution. Keeping in line with the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, it is important to cut down our dependence on plastics. The banning of plastics by authorities is the only solution that would deal with this issue entirely.
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