Low levels of microplastics in Icelandic drinking water

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Veitur, HS Orka and Norðurorka today presented the results of a year-​long independent study conducted by ReSource International ehf. measuring microplastics in drinking water across the companies’ boreholes, water distribution systems and storage tanks.

Microplastics were detected in half of points in distribution systems and less than half of boreholes and storage tanks. Researchers found around one particle in every ten litres in the median sample point. In contrast, a widely publicised 2018 study funded by ORB Media on tap water worldwide found an average of fifty particles in every ten litres sampled.

Jamie McQuilkin, the principle investigator, said “We know that microplastics are present essentially everywhere in the modern environment, but the results from this work suggest that Icelandic drinking water is not a large carrier. In fact, our main difficulty in this study was to protect our samples from particles in the air and on surfaces – we spent many months developing the method to get this work to be as accurate as possible.”

One of the challenges in microplastics research is quantifying and preventing contamination from the air and from researchers’ own clothes, which can be hundreds of times greater than that in samples. This research, unlike previous work in Iceland, used extensive contamination controls and blank samples.

Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5mm in all dimensions. The study measured all microplastics above 0,027mm, or 27 microns. In addition, a fluorescent dye called Nile Red was used to stain plastic particles, in order to tell them apart from organic particles such as cotton or wool.

A WHO report recently released in August 2019 stated that, although current information is limited, particularly for very small microplastics, “there is no evidence to indicate a human health concern” from microplastics in drinking water. In addition, the evidence available suggest that plastic content of bottled water is higher than that of tap water, likely partially due to its packaging. However, their recommendation is that further research is necessary.

Veitur, HS Orka and Norðurorka will now consider the need for further monitoring.

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