microplastics ocean threat pollution microbeads india
Environment Pollution & Climate Change

Microplastics –Magic has gone the wrong way!

Do you remember the last time when you bought bottled water in a new city because you did not trust the local water sources? The bottled water was probably the safest way of not getting sick due to water contamination and other problems. Well, times change and new research have shown almost all bottled water were contaminated with what is called microplastics1. Let’s step back a bit and learn about microplastics.

Any plastic material that is less than 5 mm in length is referred to as microplastic2. Microplastics are formed mainly due to the degradation of plastic material into tiny particles over time. Another significant source of microplastic contamination comes from ‘microbeads’, which are tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene, used as Exfoliants (removing dead cells from the surface of the skin) in many beauty and health care products. Microplastics are already causing havoc in the oceans, disrupting the ocean and animal life2.

microplastics ocean pollution
Credits: National Geographic Blog

Coming back to the global research study conducted on bottled water at different places around the world, including Asia, Americas, Europe and Africa, 93% of bottled water tested had high levels of microplastic in them. The tested brands include Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner. The study was conducted in the labs of Dr. Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher at the State University of New York (SUNY). They found an average of 10 plastic particles greater than 100 microns (0.1 mm) per liter of water. Other smaller particles which are suspected to be plastic were found at a much higher rate (314 particles per liter of water). What’s worse is the companies own testing provides evidence of this contamination, albeit in much lower levels. There has been very little research done on the effect of microplastics on human health, however, you don’t have to be a scientist to know that it can only be anything but good for our body.  The FAO has already raised concerns regarding this issue and many countries have started to conduct research on how this can affect us. Hopefully, we will have some evidence regarding the effects of these tiny particles on our body and we will be able to develop screening and refining systems to get these particles out of our water supply.

Study conducted on bottled water at different places around the world, including Asia, Americas, Europe and Africa, 93% of bottled water tested had high levels of microplastic in them. The tested brands include Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner.

Well, this brings into question, the following. What can we do as a common man/woman to reduce such contamination of our precious water? The next time you buy juice or tender coconut water, try not to use a plastic straw. The next time you go to buy groceries or other items, try to get a cloth bag. The next time you go to eat outside, try to bring your own spoon and fork. Try to stop using single use plastic materials. Try not to buy health and beauty products that contain plastic microbeads. Like our wise forefathers suggested, ‘Change begins at home’

The author, Shanthanu Krishnakumar is the Masters Candidate in Dept. of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Canada. He is also a professional carnatic singer. shanthan@uoguelph.ca