Water: Tap, Bottled & Microplastics

Orb in the World

Water: Tap, Bottled & Microplastics

Everyone needs water to live. Water is a vital resource, yet 2.1 billion people don’t have access to safe tap water.

I founded Orb Media to be a new kind of global journalism organization dedicated to telling stories on issues that matter to billions of people around the globe - like the quality of the water that we consume.

Fusing original research, data analysis, on-the-ground reporting, and an engaged public, Orb Media produces agenda-setting stories about the challenges and opportunities we face together as one world.

Inspired by reporting on the presence of microbeads in the U.S. Great Lakes, journalists from Orb Media did pre-reporting on microplastics and their presence in salt and fresh water systems. The team wondered whether, if these tiny plastics are in water from which we draw our drinking water, are they in our tap water?

We sought research that would answer the question but found there had never been a study focused on whether global tap water contained microplastic.

Orb Media commissioned Dr. Sherri Mason, a professor of Chemistry at the State University of New York, Fredonia and leading microplastics researcher to design the protocols for and conduct a study to test global tap water samples.

We reported those findings in September of 2017— 83 percent of tap water samples, taken from 159 different taps, in fourteen countries on five continents were contaminated with microscopic plastic fibers.

What surprised me about the findings was not the prevalence, but that no one had pursued this line of enquiry before.

Our commons, that is, those elements that we all share: the air, water, soil are deeply connected and impact our food and health across nations, across regions, across the world. It’s important that, as a human society, we start seeing them that way.

From Tap to Bottle
Given the global dependence on bottled water, especially for those with no access to safe drinking water, Orb Media began a new inquiry to determine if global bottled water also contained microplastic particles.

Again, no public research was uncovered and Orb Media undertook new research and reporting to answer the question.

Released today, Orb Media reported that a single liter of bottled water can contain thousands of microplastic particles.

Exclusive tests on more than 250 bottles from 11 leading brands worldwide reveal widespread contamination with plastic debris including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Plastic was identified in 93 percent of the samples.

While it’s clear we are consuming plastic, what this means for human health is unknown. However, given the ubiquity of plastic in our environment, it demands further research to establish the source and prevalence of microplastics in water as well as its impact on humans.

Orb Media publishes work simultaneously with the Orb Media Network – a global cohort of leading national media brands. Current OMN members include BBC (United Kingdom), Cadena Ser- PRISA (Spain), CBC (Canada), Dhaka Tribune (Bangladesh), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Die Zeit (Germany), Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), SVT (Sweden), Tempo Media Group (Indonesia), The Hindu (India) and YLE (Finland).
By working and publishing in this way we can focus the attention of government, industry, civil society and the individual, to catalyze global dialogue on important issues. Individuals and communities around the world then have access to quality, fact-based information, and can learn, discuss and determine the appropriate actions for citizen-driven change.

As a global community, we all need to work together: industry, local and national governments, the citizenry, academics, activists to call for and to conduct more research on the prevalence, sources and potential risks to human health of microplastics in our water – whether bottled or tap water.

PS: If you’re not already on Orb’s email list, you can sign up here. And, you can join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #PlusPlastic.