The Newest Water Contamination Problem Isn’t What You’d Think It Is

When many of us first think about water contamination, we think of lead.

You may recall that lead contamination was the big story recently in Flint, Michigan. They found high levels of lead in drinking water in homes and schools.

This is serious stuff. Lead contamination in water can have harmful effects on anyone who drinks it. Especially on children who, years later, can experience both physical issues and learning disabilities. In extreme cases, it can even cause death.

Flint is hardly the only place where this is a problem. It’s happening across the country. Especially in cities and villages where old, lead pipes carry water into buildings.

Unfortunately, lead is not the only contaminate we have to worry about. There are hundreds of other pollutants out there. Any of them could cause us to get sick or worse.

And one in particular has started to receive more attention in the news recently.

Plastic Fibers Are Infiltrating Our Water!

A recent article in The Guardian newspaper reports that billions of people around the world are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles.

An investigative team took samples from more than a dozen nations. They found that plastic fibers were present in 83 percent of those samples.

When you think about how many things are made with plastic these days, it isn’t surprising. It’s estimated that 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year.

Guess Who’s No. 1 in Plastic Contamination?

Which country has the highest levels of plastic contamination in its water? I hate to tell you this, but it’s the United States.

A whopping 94.4 percent of the samples taken here at home were found to be contaminated by plastic fibers.

There were many places where they tested America’s water. Among them were Congress buildings, the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters and Trump Tower.

For those of you who like numbers, they found an average of 4.8 plastic fibers in each 500-milliliter sample of tap water in the U.S.

Washers and Dryers Are Two Big Culprits

So, how are these plastic particles getting into our drinking water? In a variety of ways.

Maybe you’re picturing someone tossing an empty plastic bottle into a stream, river or lake. After all, only 20 percent of the world’s plastic is properly recycled or incinerated. That’s one way it could happen. But not the most prominent one.

Most plastic fibers that pollute water actually come from the air. They separate from items, for example clothing in dyers, which then shoot into the outside air. Many of the fibers then drift and eventually fall into those streams, rivers and lakes.

Washing machines are just as guilty as dryers. A recent study showed that a typical cycle could flush 700,000 plastic fibers from clothes into the environment. Including into our water systems.

Plastic Particles Contain Toxic Chemicals

How serious is this problem? One of the scariest things about it is that nobody knows for sure. But so far, what we do know is not good.

There are two big problems. There’s the small plastic particles themselves that can mess with your insides. Then there are the toxic chemicals that those particles contain.

The micro-plastics can attract bacteria found in sewage. These nanoparticles, as they are called, can then penetrate through your body’s cells and organs.

A professor at Plymouth University in the UK, Richard Thompson, has studied this issue. His research on wildlife showed that the toxic chemicals from the micro-plastics are released in the body. He said, “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.”

About one-third of the fish caught in the UK have plastic contaminants in them, according to Thompson.


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