Microplastic contamination has been discovered in tap water around the world, and this has led to calls from scientists across the globe for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scientists analysed tap water samples from more than a dozen nations across six continents during a ten-month investigation by Orb Media. The shocking results were that a massive 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The highest contamination was in the US, at 94%, and Lebanon and India had the next highest rates. The lowest contamination rates were found in European nations including the UK, Germany and France, although this was still an unacceptable 72% contamination. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The first global analysis of all mass–produced plastics found that humans have produced 8.3bn tonnes since the 1950s with the majority ending up in landfill or oceans. The latest analyses indicate the omnipresent extent of micro-plastic contamination in the global environment. Previous studies focused largely on plastic pollution in the oceans, and suggests that we are eating micro plastics via contaminated seafood.

The worry re micro-plastic contamination comes both from the very small plastic particles as well as the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour.

Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted a separate small study in the Republic of Ireland, said:

If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we can’t measure. “Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying.”

The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in people’s homes.

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