The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for urgent research into the health impacts of microplastics, as it released analysis of current data on micro plastics in drinking water, which it described as “extremely limited”.
Dr Maria Neira, director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, at WHO, said: “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water. Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more.”
According to the analysis: “Microplastics larger than 150 micrometres are not likely to be absorbed in the human body and uptake of smaller particles is expected to be limited. Absorption and distribution of very small microplastic particles including in the nano size range may, however, be higher, although the data is extremely limited.
“Further research is needed to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health. 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.”
It found wastewater treatment can remove more than 90% of microplastics from wastewater, with the highest removal coming from tertiary treatment such as filtration. Conventional drinking-water treatment can remove particles smaller than a micrometre.
The UK water industry is expected to release the findings of its first major research project on microplastics in water within the next few weeks.