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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Update 2017/9/20


This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems

By Cori Marshall

Plastics can be moulded into almost any shape the human mind can conjure up, which has made it a practical solution for modern living and very prevalent in society. It wasn't always this way, I for one, can remember a time where groceries were always packed in paper bags, then came that benign question "paper or plastic?" Very soon there was no choice, and now many of us carry our cloth bags to reverse this trend.

It wasn't just grocery bags; many things were packaged in glass containers. Sure, the change has helped us avoid cleaning spills when we inevitably fumble the mayonnaise jar at two in the morning. Was it worth it?

Plastic is, quite literally, everywhere. Its bottles, bags, food containers, utensils, it's in our clothes, cars, and in our food. Plastic continents in our oceans are a global pollution problem. Now we know that microplastic particulates are most likely in our drinking water.

There was very little in the way of studies conducted on microplastic pollution in drinking water which lead online media organization Orb to collaborate with researchers on what they called "an observational experiment."

Dr Sherri Ann Mason is a Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at State University of New York Fredonia. Mason, who supervised the experiment, agreed to speak with us on the subject.

Mason said that going into the project they believed that the issue of microplastics in drinking water "would be more prevalent in developing countries." This is not what they found they found evidence of this pollution everywhere "in relatively uniform amounts." The big picture here is that "this is a problem for everybody," Mason added.

Mason said that humans "should not be ingesting plastic, it is a non-natural material, no organisms can use it as food, [and] it's not biodegradable." Plastic is relatively new and Mason added that "we don't have safety standards with regards to how much is safe to ingest." How much plastic is too much plastic for humans, is a question "that perhaps we will have the data to answer in the future, we certainly don't have it now," Mason said.

Yes, there is most likely plastic particles in the drinking water that comes out of our taps, which can be off-putting. This puts people in a tricky situation because we need water to live and can't go very long without it. The reaction many will have, in the age, we live in, is to race for the bottled water.

Mason said that "the primary purpose of the study," was to test tap water. They also tested several brands of bottled water. Mason added that her biggest concern was people would think plastic "is in the tap water so I'll go buy bottled water because it's better for me."

Test results show that "bottled water is just as bad as tap water, which makes sense, since [it] is basically tap water," Mason said.

What it all boils down to is "this problem is ubiquitous, we can't filter ourselves out of the problem," Mason underlined. She added that "every piece of plastic we find in any compartment of our planet (air, water, soil), all of that plastic ultimately comes from us.

Plastic is something that "we created, that we use, and it is something that we lose in the process of using it," Mason said. Being that this issue is ultimately caused by humans Mason suggested the picture that the data creates "is a call to action to reevaluate our relationship with this material and think of how we are using it and whether it needs to be as prominent in our lives."

Mason underscored the fact that most of the plastics we use are "single use [and] disposable, plastic bags and straws are products that we use for minutes out of a material that lasts for centuries, that makes absolutely no sense." Mason admitted that "there are probably some good uses for plastic, though the most abundant forms of plastic that we use are for illogical reasons."

    "If this problem is so pervasive that we are finding it in our basic drinking water, which we need to survive as a species, then maybe we need to be thinking about the sources, and ultimately the sources are us and all of the products that we use and if we really want to solve this problem we need to start at the source." - Dr. Sherri Ann Mason

We are faced with this problem, now we must address it. Mason believes that positively addressing this issue "will take a multi-faceted approach." She added that "each and every one of us can start with our own selves which is the best place to start in any problem." Mason said that "each one of us, even though we feel insignificant, we are actually quite significant.

"We are not individuals isolated in the world, we have spheres of influence," she said. Through our actions, we influence our friends and family, especially our children. Mason suggests that "how we get out of this mess is ultimately how we got into it, we didn't wake up one morning and everything was packaged in plastic it happened slowly over time."

Part of the way forward is making changes as individuals and influencing those around us, though that is not the only change that needs to happen. Mason believes that part of the solution is "changes in government," for instance implementing mandatory fees or bans on plastic bags. Mason said when "plastic bags are just given away for free, people think that they don't have any value."

Charging people for the use of plastic bags demonstrates to people that there are costs associated with production, shipping and acquisition. The bags themselves are manufactured in physical locations and Mason said those living in those areas "are paying for our plastic bag habit with their lives."

Plastic is everywhere and in just about everything and we are waking up to the fact that this is a problem that all people on this planet have to face. We need to take a good hard look at how we as individuals use plastic products and choose to make changes in our day-to-day habits. Where individuals are unwilling to change their habits, government has to step in a legislate that change, because we don't know how much ingested plastic is a safe amount.

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