“93 per cent of 259 water bottles from five continents contained microplastic contamination”
Source: Toxics Dispatch ~ 51, Date: April , 2018
Dan Morrison is a part of a research by Orb Media which confirms the presence of microplastics in bottled water. Orb Media is a Washington DC based nonprofit news organization. He has written on science, conflict and culture for publications including The New York Times and National Geographic. He has also authored a book titled “The Black Nile’.
What prompted you to do such story?
While doing research on plastic pollution, my colleagues at Orb Media noticed, nearly two years ago, that most of the research available on microplastics pollution – a large and growing body of work – involved the marine environment. We couldn’t find studies that dealt with microplastic and drinking water - nothing. The absence of existing research, in 2016-17, led us to initiate a study to determine the presence of microplastics in tap water from all over the world. We collected samples from more than a dozen countries on five continents, thatwere tested at the University of Minnesota. The study found that more than 83 per cent of the tap water samples contained microplastic fibres. This led to another question: if microplastic is in tap water, is it also in bottled water? In that study, which was released in March, we found that 93 per cent of 259 bottles from five continents contained microplastic contamination.
What was the challenges did you find while doing this study?
There were different sorts of challenges. The study was designed by Prof. Sherri Mason, Chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the State University of New York in Fredonia. Mason also designed the tap water study, and supervised the lab work. The primary challenges were to collect samples from diverse locations around the world and get them unmolested to the laboratory, and to document the process to show that the bottles weren’t tampered within transit from places like Indonesia and Mumbai.
Certainly, there was a challenge in addressing a key question – does consuming microplastic cause any harm to humans? The current research, which experts say is fragmentary and incomplete, does not show any harmful health effects.
What was the global response of the study?
In response to our reporting, the World Health Organization has now launched an initiative to promote research into the health effects of plastic particles in food and beverages. Since publication of our story in leading news outlets around the world, McGill University in Toronto has carried out its own study, which found microplastic contamination in several brands of Canadian bottled water.
Did you find any difference between the reaction in developing countries and developed countries?
The main differences were in reaction to the tap water study versus the bottled water study. The tap water study led to action by governments and academia, because the delivery of safe drinking water is a primary responsibility of government. That’s led authorities to test tap water and wastewater in cities and towns in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bottled water is commercial product, and there are no regulations in any country I found that specifically limit microplastic particles in food and beverages. So no one is breaking any rule by having microplastic in bottled water. And, at this time again, there is no definable harm.
How have you planned to take this study further?
In addition to Orb Media’s reporting on other topics including global demographic trends, governance, and climate, we are exploring future plastics-related projects. Stay tuned.