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U.S. consumers ingest over tens of thousands of microplastics every year

Those who drink more bottled water consume even more

Photo (c) vovashevchuk - Getty Images
Reducing plastic waste has become a major goal for companies and cities around the world, but a recent study shows that many consumers are still ingesting large volumes of microplastics in their everyday lives.

Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic that can come from a variety of places. One of the main sources of microplastics comes from plastic packaging used for certain food and drink products, but they can even be found in the air or your tap water.

Bottled water drinkers ingest more particles

To determine how many microplastic particles consumers come in contact with each year, researchers at the American Chemical Society (ACS) reviewed the amount of microplastic particles commonly found in a variety of consumer products and food sources. They then cross-referenced those amounts with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The findings showed that the average American consumes anywhere between 74,000 to 121,000 microplastic particles per year. However, those numbers varied based on factors like age, gender, and consumption habits. Of particular note, the researchers say that consumers who prefer to drink bottled water could be consuming tens of thousands more microplastic particles when compared to those who don’t.

“Individuals who meet their recommended water intake through only bottled sources may be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water,” they said.

Potential hazards

The researchers stress that their estimates are based on projections that include only 15 percent of consumers’ caloric intake, so their numbers are likely an underestimation of how many microplastics consumers actually ingest each year.

The team admits that current research on this subject does not provide concrete answers about the health effects of consuming microplastics. However, they note that certain particles are small enough to enter human tissue and could trigger immune reactions or release toxic substances.

The full study has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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