London – A UN report has warned of hazards linked to plastic pollution in drinking water – including the risk that fragments might carry harmful bacteria.
The report by the World Health Organisation warned that very little research had been carried out on microplastics in drinking water.
It said all drinking water – both from the tap and in bottles – now contained microplastic particles, but the direct effects on the body of consuming them are not yet known.
While larger microplastic particles are passed out of our bodies, smaller particles could potentially be absorbed into our organs, the report suggested.
It added microplastics had the potential to carry disease-causing bacteria and help bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.
The report says drinking-water suppliers and regulators should prioritise removing disease-causing bacteria and harmful chemicals from the water supply, as that would also remove microplastics.
Ultimately, the best solution is to stop polluting the world with plastics, it said. WHO spokesperson Dr Maria Neira 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. We also need to stop the rise in plastic pollution worldwide."
Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, said: "This report highlights the need to improve our understanding of human exposure to microplastics from a variety of sources, including drinking water.
"There is no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean they are harmless. It is essential to understand how and where exposure to microplastics is most likely, and to understand any possible health risks as a result of this exposure."
Javier Mateo-Sagasta, of the International Water Management Institute, said: "This latest report only adds to the growing body of evidence that microplastics are a huge issue, both for our health and for the environment, and that this needs urgent addressing."
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs added: "More studies are urgently needed into the potential impact of microplastic pollution on our health and environment…"