Recent studies have shown that microscopic plastic fibers can be found everywhere in our environment. They can even be found in our homes, in our food, and in the air that we breathe.
The Guardian published an article on Wednesday that showed the fact that tap water from around the world is contaminated with microplastics. However, specialists do not yet know what consequences this has on the 7 billion inhabitants of our planet.
While the fact that the oceans are heavily polluted with plastic has been known for quite some time, the seriousness of the land-based pollution has been somewhat unknown. This is a troubling thought if we are to consider the damage that synthetic materials are constantly doing to marine ecosystems.
Useful but deadly
Plastic is an incredibly flexible material in terms of possible uses, and it is practically indestructible unless burned. So much of our society revolves around its use, that more than half of all human-related waste consists of plastic.
However, regardless of how valuable the material is to various human industries, one cannot ignore the fact that plastic does not simply disappear when thrown away. Instead, it remains present in the environment. A recent study has shown that there may be over 8 billion tons of plastic in everything from the tap water that we use in our day to day activities, to the air that we breathe.
The news that tap water is also contaminated with microscopic fragments of plastic has led to a study in which all types of German bottled beer were tested, as well as sugar and honey. The results have shown that all of the products contained microplastic.
Poison comes in multiple forms
Many may look at how plastic fragments kill marine life, causing obstructions, and argue that this is less likely to happen to humans. However, there are more ways through which the ingestion of microplastic can harm a living creature. Consider how many chemicals go into an item made of plastic, in the form of dyes and compounds that enhance durability or flexibility.
While it has been proved that microplastics can also attract pathogens and pesticides, it is unknown how this would affect humans. The consumption of plastic microfibers has only been studied in the case of a couple of species of earthworm and one species of nematode.
While the possible effects of the contamination are troubling, it is more important to first determine how it occurred, before we can start resolving the problem. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in the UK has reported that most of the microscopic fragments come from synthetic textile fibers that are shed by clothes.
Wastewater treatment plants do filter out many of the plastic fragments in the water, however, a part of the generated sludge is returned to the environment. A study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal has estimated that up to 430,000 tons of plastic microfibers may be added to farms and fields in Europe each year. The same analysis also shows that about 300,000 tons of fibers are introduced in North America.
A different study has concluded that cities such as Paris may be experiencing a huge microplastic contamination, due to the large amount of plastic fibers that can be found in the air. The research team that performed the study has discovered that the material was present in both an apartment, as well as in a hotel room, and has concluded that the city’s inhabitants may be breathing microplastics.
The world is currently facing several environmental issues such as the climate change, the damaging use of pesticides, and air pollution due to the heavy use of fossil fuel. These issues do not only threaten the environment, but also our species. We have a strong relationship with the environment that we live in and damaging it will affect us.
It seems that most of the synthetic clothes and plastic objects that have accelerated the development of the human civilization may also be destroying the environment.