A Teeny Tiny Yet Frightening Pollution Problem
California First In The World To Test For This Scary Contaminant In Water
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The only thing that scares me more than major pollution issues are “micro” ones.
These tiny plastic particles, barely visible to the human eye, are harmful to the environment, and now they are making their way into our bodies.
Earlier this year, in a paper published in Environment International, researchers discovered plastic particles in the blood of humans, now showing that these teeny tiny particles can travel around the body. Gross!
The impact on health has yet to be studied, but I’m gonna go ahead and make a wild guess that it’s not good.
“Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood—it’s a breakthrough result,” study author Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, told the Guardian.
The researchers took blood samples from anonymous, healthy adults, looking for plastics that were between 700 and 500,000 nanometers (nm). Seven hundred nm is about 140 times smaller than the width of one strand of human hair.
Donors could have been exposed to microplastics through air, water, and food along with personal care items, like toothpaste or lip gloss, according to the study authors.
The study found that polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used to make disposable water bottles, was the most widely encountered plastic polymer. The second most common, polystyrene (PS), which is used for food packaging and polystyrene foam, was also found in the donor blood, the study concluded.
California Moves Forward With Regulation
Last month, California water regulators approved the world’s first requirements for testing microplastics in drinking water sources, which is a bold step to begin regulating these minute fragments.
The California State Water Resources Control Board has unanimously approved a policy handbook for testing water supplies for microplastics, after years of research involving more than two-dozen laboratories.
The plan would require up to 30 of the state’s largest water providers to start quarterly testing for two years, beginning in the fall of 2023. (2023, can’t come fast enough!)
“There’s no other place in the world—literally in the world—that has standardized methods for how you do this or has a monitoring program to look at drinking water,” Steve Weisberg, executive director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, told CalMatters. “California is really getting out there and being first.”
The handbook from the water board presents a timeline for testing. First, an initial, year-long pilot phase will test and hone sampling methods and provide training, with monitoring expected to take place in two, two-year phases.
Once in place, water systems will be required to alert the public to microplastics detections in their annual Consumer Confidence Reports.
But again, we don’t have data on the amount of microplastics contaminating drinking water. We don’t know if smaller particles are evading treatment, which are the ones that could pose the most serious health concerns.
If that’s not scary, I don’t know what it is.
“We’ve known about the issue for decades,” said Scott Coffin, a research scientist at the California State Water Resources Control Board. “The public has been asking for governments to do something about it for a good 10 or 15 years.”
I’m glad to see California getting in action, and my hope is that other states and countries will take notice and get going too.
A new report released just this week found that only five to six percent of plastics in the U.S. were actually recycled, a major decline from the still relatively low highs of 9.5 percent in 2014 and 8.7 percent in 2018.
We’ve got a major plastics problem that’s not going away anytime soon, harming our ecosystems and now making its way into our bodies.
I can’t think of anything more frightening than future generations of humans that have bodies literally made up of plastic.
Some Not-So-Scary Solutions
At the corporate level, we need manufacturers to work on new solutions and move away from single-use plastics.
We need more scientists to study the impact of microplastics in human bodies. Can they be excreted or do they accumulate? Can they pass the blood-brain barrier? What’s the real impact of plastics on our systems?
As individuals, I know it’s impossible to eliminate all plastics from our lives, but I encourage you to get a reusable water bottle, bring your own bags to the store, and speak up to your favorite brands about your concerns with plastic pollution.
Now is the time to act on reducing plastic pollution in our world.
Got more ideas? Let us know in the comments below!