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ANALYSIS

Orb Media’s research finds microplastic fibres contaminating tap water
Friday, 08 September, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Washington, D C
Orb Media, a D C-based non-profit digital newsroom, released Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us, the first-ever global scientific study on the overwhelming prevalence of microplastics (extremely small pieces of plastic debris, measuring less than 5mm, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste) in tap water.

“Our exclusive research found 83 per cent of the tap water samples from 14 countries are contaminated with microscopic plastic fibres,” said Molly Bingham, founder and chief executive officer, Orb Media.

“Scientists say they don’t really know how these microplastics reach our taps or what the health risks might be. But microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals from the marine environment, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals,” she added.

“I am concerned by the implications of our research. At the very least, I hope that our work triggers large-scale, global research on plastic contamination and the ramifications for human health - particularly that of children,” Bingham said.

The tap water study, conceived and coordinated by Orb, was designed by Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, and Elizabeth Wattenberg at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health.

They oversaw the sample testing, which was carried out by researcher, Mary Kosuth, who screened 159 half-litre samples of drinking water from 14 countries - Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Slovakia, Switzerland, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Orb journalists Chris Tyree and Dan Morrison reported from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, India, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They explored how plastic has infiltrated communities around the globe and how those communities are responding to the threat of plastic waste, and coordinated the sampling and testing of tap water from more than a dozen cities on five continents.

“Since the problem of plastic was created exclusively by human beings through our indifference, it can be solved by human beings by paying attention to it,” said Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

“Now what we need is a determination to get it done before it gets us,” he added.

The contamination of these global tap water samples distributes evenly across the globe.

Drinking water from the Trump Grille in New York, the Sloane Club in London and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D C, all contained microplastics.

So did samples from a private apartment in Beirut, a household tap in Slovakia and a public spigot on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda.

Orb will continue to test additional tap water samples from around the world for microscopic plastic fibres, and will announce these results in late September 2017.
 
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