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How worried should we be about microplastics in our drinking water?

The United Nations' World Health Organization has released a report which finds that although microplastics are increasingly found in drinking water, there's no evidence so far this poses a risk to humans.

The WHO summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants says microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited.

Cape Talk's Africa Melane asks Professor Peter Ryan whether the report does not detract from the work being done to remove single-use plastics from our daily lives.

The marine scientist and director of the Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute says the report is not unbalanced.

The report is quite specific around microplastics in drinking water and it doesn't say that they're not a danger - it says that they're not a very significant concern.

Prof. Peter Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

Plastics you're getting in drinking water are going to be pretty clean because they're mostly coming out of the bottle that you're drinking your water out of.

Prof. Peter Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

Ryan says these microplastics move very quickly through your system, but if they worry you, drink tap water rather than bottled water,

Plastics are pretty inert, but if you get toxic compounds associated with them then that's a mechanism for introducing them into people.

Prof. Peter Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

He says the concern is more around nanoplastics which are so tiny that they can potentially move out of the digestive tract into your tissues.

The one area where we are still uncertain as to the impacts of microplastics is once you get down to the very small nanoplastics - things that are less than a thousandth of a millimetre across.

Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

There's no easy way for chemists to identify plastics where they get very small. Only by deliberate studies where we label them in some way, can we tell that they're actually migrating out of the digestive tract and into tissues.

Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

We know that's happening to some extent at least in marine organisms, but the experiments haven't been done on humans for ethical reasons.

Ryan, Director - Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute

Listen to the conversation here:


This article first appeared on CapeTalk : How worried should we be about microplastics in our drinking water?


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