you're reading...


There’s plastic in your tap water, beer, and table salt

Kosuth M, Mason SA, Wattenberg EV (2018) Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0194970. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194970

You’ve seen it; plastic bottles discarded on the beach, photos of marine life starved on a diet of plastic straws, shopping bags adrift in a flotilla of single-use refuse.

Plastic changed the world when it was invented 1907. Even the very first synthetic polymers were revolutionary compared to glass, metal, and other pre-industrial revolution materials. Tough but lightweight, transparent, waterproof, and disposable, plastic quickly replaced many older medical instruments, packaging, and some building materials. Improvements in industrial-scale manufacturing processes in the 1950s and 60s rocketed plastic into cheap mass production and sent it around the world for use in all kinds of packaging, clothing, furniture, electronics, and toys. We now produce about 322,000,000 tons of plastic, globally, every year (~125X the weight of all the blue whales on earth). About half of this ends up directly in the landfill after a single use.

An albatross that has succumbed to starvation due to overconsumption of plastic particles, Chris Jordan via Ars Electronica on Flickr.

Plastic has a nasty habit of ending up in water, thanks to both intentional discarding of larger items and the light weight of tiny plastic particles breaking down on land. In the hydrological cycle, all roads lead to the ocean. So even properly processed landfilled plastics can find their way to your favourite beach if there’s been enough rain.

If the images of suffocated turtles flooding social media lately don’t do it for you, you might want to pay attention to some recent findings by scientists focusing on the toxicology of plastics in humans.  Plastic particles are known to absorb harmful chemicals like PCBs, metals, PAHs, and other reproductive toxicants and carcinogens. In some cases, these have been shown to desorb in the gut.

Humans are not completely removed from the marine food web, though we sometimes like to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world. We eat ocean-derived foods, we participate in the global water cycle, and as we now know, plastics are everywhere. Shellfish, finfish, tapwater, beer, and table salt have all been shown to contain varying amounts of plastic particles, mainly in the form of microfibers.

A microfibre found by students in an urban wetland, Halifax Nova Scotia. R Parker

A collaborative study by Kosuth et. al. recently set out to determine  whether these confirmed findings of plastic in human consumables were isolated cases, indicating only regional pollution problems, or representative of a larger trend. They focused on tap water and sea salt, collected from global sources, and beer, brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

Kosuth found plastics in 81% of tap water samples they tested, the vast majority of which were fibres. Water samples averaged ~6particles/L, the highest of which was found in the US with ~9particles/L. Tap water from developing nations had fewer plastic particles, on average, than water in developed nations, and three brands of bottled water tested also showed less plastic (though plastic was still present in each).

All beer brands were positive for plastic, averaging ~4 particles/L. Like the water, most particles were fibres. Interestingly, there seemed to be no correlation between the plastics found in the water used to brew the beer and in water samples from the same municipality as the brewery, indicating that the plastic contamination may not be just from the water used to brew the beer itself. This could indicate that varying processing practices affect ultimate plastic content, some resulting in less plastic than the water they started with.

All brands of salt were found to contain plastics, averaging 212 particles/kg and, as with the water and beer, most of them were fibres. Unlike the tap water and beer, it’s difficult to tell where any one sample of salt has come from. Salt is often mixed in multi-source batches before being sold around the world, so the authors can’t say which salts might contain the most plastic. However, some brands contained upwards of 800 particles/kg, an amount the authors say is similar to other studies on US- and China-sourced salts.

A clear-bodied copepod showing a recently ingested micro fibre. Copepods form the basis of many aquatic food chains. Matthew Cole, ICES CIEM

Kosuth’s study reveals a concerning level of plastic contamination in items intended for human consumption. The ubiquity of plastic contamination across tap water sources is especially worrisome, as water cannot be avoided in the way that beer and sea salt can. Drinking the recommended 2-3L of water a day, under these findings, would result in the average person consuming up to 18 plastic particles. In a year, you would consume thousands of particles, mostly plastic fibres.

We have reached a point of no return with plastic pollution. More research is needed to determine the effects of this elevated plastic consumption in humans, especially over the long-term and in areas where particles are likely to pick up chemical contaminants. In the meantime, it’s time to start switching to reusable containers, natural fibre clothing, and adopting a lifestyle that reduces our plastic output.

If you’re interested in making the switch to plastic-free living, or maybe just thinking about cutting back, there are some great resources on the Queen of Green blog hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation. Check it out here!


No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com