Turns out we're drinking microplastics in our water - World Health Organization

A World Health Organization (WHO) report has found we are drinking microplastics everyday in our water - what is not known is whether it's harmful.

Now the WHO is calling for urgent research into microplastics, and their potential impact on our health.

The shocking pictures of the plastics littering our oceans are well documented. But then there are the plastics that can't be seen, the microplastics.

So just how much are we consuming? 

"It's a lot," Associate Professor Duncan McGillivray from the University of Auckland and MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. "I mean we don't precisely know for waters in New Zealand, although people are doing those studies right now to find out how much plastic we've got. 

"But it's proportional to the amount of plastic we use and like the rest of the world we've got a bit of a plastic addiction."

One study found we consume as much as one credit card's worth of plastic a week.

Microplastics can be purpose made - like glitter, and they're also created by the breaking down of bottles, the wearing down of tyres, the soles of our shoes, and even the washing of clothes.

In Lyttelton, Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) scientists are working on a five year project to find out the impact of microplastics on New Zealand animals and ecosystems.

"Everywhere that people have looked so far they've found microplastics," senior scientist Dr Olga Pantos said. "So all different environments from the air, the tops of mountains, down into the deep sea sediments.

"One thing we absolutely do know is plastic shouldn't be in the environment."

But is it a risk to our health?

Scientists at the University of Auckland are trying to find out the impact of the smallest plastic particles, nanoplastics, on human cells.  

But McGillivray said we shouldn't worry about drinking water.

"In a sense we've been running a sort of unscrutinised experiment on 7 billion people for the past 50 years that we've been using plastics."

So, no need to panic, but the WHO says we do need to find out more. In the meantime, we should reduce the amount of plastic we're creating.


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