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WHO: More data needed on microplastics' effects on health

By Darryl Coote
WHO: More data needed on microplastics' effects on health
A new WHO report says microplastics are ubiquitous in drinking water, including bottled water, but there isn't enough data to know the effects it may have on human health. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization on Thursday urged further research on the effects of microplastics on the environment and human health as a new study highlights the ubiquity of the material in tap, bottled and fresh water.

"We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere -- including in our drinking water," said Dr Maria Neira, the director of WHO'S Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health.

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The 101-page analysis, which is the first major international review to summarize the latest knowledge on microplastics in drinking water, said they are "ubiquitous in the environment" and have been detected in marine water, wastewater, fresh water, food, air and drinking water -- both tap and bottled.

According to the report, there is evidence that microplastics in bottled water can be "at least partially" attributed to the bottling and packaging process.

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The report said Microplastics could pose dangers to human health in three forms: as a physical hazard, a chemical hazard as it could be absorbed into the body and a microorganism hazard as organisms, known as biofilm, may colonize on microplastics.

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However, the issue is there isn't enough information to know for sure, said Neira.

"Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don't appear to pose a health risk at current levels," she said. "But we need to find out more."

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Microplastics larger than 150 micrometers are not likely to be absorbed into the human body. However, the body's absorption and distribution of nano-sized particles could be higher, though data on this is limited, the report said.

"Further research is needed to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health," WHO said in a statement. "These include developing standard methods for measuring microplastic particles in water; more studies on the sources and occurrence of microplastics in fresh water, and the efficacy of different treatment processes."

WHO also called for the reduction in plastic pollution as it is not only beneficial for the environment but also reduces human exposure to microplastics.

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