Tap water contains plastic pollutants
94% of faucet water is contaminated by microscopic-sized plastic fibers which can cause cancer and other illnesses, according to the results of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Getty Images

A new study reveals 94 percent of the tap water that you drink is contaminated by invisible plastic fibers.

An investigation conducted by Orb Media, a non-profit journalistic organization, which analyzed samples of faucet water from more than a dozen nations showed that the rate of contamination of water by plastic fibers was highest in the U.S.

The study which tested samples of water collected during the first three months of the year in countries including India, Malaysia, Indonesia and several cities in the United States found that the length of the particles of fibers ranged from 0.1 to five millimeters.

The fibers were found by researchers in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and even the home of the president in Trump Tower in New York.

Even bottled water was not clean, the study found, with the plastics being found in many of U.S.’ top bottled water brands. Food items including baby formula, pasta, rice, and soups also showed the presence of plastic fibers.

Called microplastics, most of them are detached from carpets, upholstery and even clothes by washing machines and dryers during a washing cycle. Each cycle was capable of releasing more than 700,000 microscopic plastic particles into natural water bodies, reported the Guardian.

Other ways in which these invisible plastics might get into water that is consumed includes tire dust and mishandled plastic waste which is washed into the sewers and goes on to mix into rivers and streams. The water in these natural bodies is then processed or treated to be distributed for consumption. According to the researchers, there is no specific way to contain the contamination in the treatment or distribution systems.

According to Orb, such material was shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, which are then released when consumed by fish, farm animals and humans. A brochure by the United Nations Environment Programme on microplastics stated that they could cause chronic health defects in humans which included disruption of the hormonal system and could even induce genetic mutations.

Previous research in the field has been focused on microplastic pollution in the oceans and other water bodies, which may enter humans through contaminated seafood. The new study throws light on the extent of contamination of these plastics on the global environment, stated the Guardian.

Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales told Orb: "Whenever you fractionalize a problem, as with the plastic industry not being held responsible for their particular types of waste, there's capacity for that industry then to blame another."

"So it's waste management; it's not the producer's fault. It's the sewage treatment people’s fault. It's not the actual clothing manufacturer's fault. It's the people who've got the washing machine’s fault. It's somebody else's fault. Generally speaking, it's all of our fault," he added.

Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, New York, who was the supervising analyst in the study told the Guardian: “We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned. If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”