Study finds microplastics pervasive in Pennsylvania

A new study published by researchers at the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found microplastics in 100 percent of samples taken from 50 rivers, lakes and streams in Pennsylvania. The researchers described their finding as troubling and said “it’s clear that the scope of plastic pollution in Pennsylvania extends far beyond what was previously thought”.

Dave Noble, spokesperson at Bluewater, a Swedish water company battling the need for single use plastic water bottles, said the PennEnvironment study is the latest evidence of the pernicious plastics pollution plague sweeping the planet.

“Unlike litter, micro and nano plastics are largely invisible to the naked eye yet today are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we all drink around the world, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that people are largely unaware of what’s going on,” Noble said.

Human organs

He noted how recent studies found minute plastic particles in human fetuses and organs such as lungs and livers. Although there has been limited research into the potential health impact of microplastics, some scientists believe exposure leads to medical problems such as infertility, cancer, reduced immunity, and obesity.

Research on wildlife appears to support theories that young men today are less fertile than their ancestors due to chemical pollution. Researchers at England’s University of Portsmouth found shrimp living in polluted waters are producing 70 percent less sperm than the rest of their species, while a study published in Biology Letters found toxins leaching from microplastics disrupted the ability of shellfish to detect and avoid predators.

A study by the American research group Orb Media indicated that 94 percent of tap water in the USA and 72 percent in Europe contained microplastics.

No limit on microplastics

In 2020, Chinese scientists supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China found microplastics in 36 of 38 samples of domestic tap water taken from urban locations throughout the country. Noting there is no legal limit for microplastics content in tap water, the team said their findings nonetheless could not be ignored and called for more attention to be paid to microplastics in drinking water systems.

For consumers concerned about tap water quality and microplastics contamination there are technologies that provide protection against potential cancer-causing chemical pollution. Reverse osmosis technology can filter municipal water down to 0.001 micron, which means it can remove most known microplastics.

“The evidence from China, the USA, and Europe about microplastics pollution in treated tap and bottled water sends a stark warning to us all that we need bolder action on a massive scale and at speed by regulators and lawmakers to halt plastics and chemicals ending up in our tap water,” Noble said.