The only thing we, the people, have done an incredible job, is to leave behind plastic. In particular, microplastics today look everywhere: in sea turtles, cooking salt and even beer. Now a new study suggests that microplasms can also penetrate our groundwater supply. Researchers based in Illinois have discovered microplastics in springs and wells of two aquifers in the country.
This latest study, published in Groundwater magazine last week, claims to be the first to find microplastics in fracturing limestone aquifers, which account for about a quarter of global drinking water supplies. Due to their geology, these aquifers are highly porous so they can easily absorb surface water – and everything that comes with it. The team of scientists from the Center for Sustainable Technologies in Illinois and the University of Loyola in Chicago gathered 11 samples of groundwater from the aquifer near St Louis and six more aquifers in northwest Illinois.
Only one sample returned without microplastics. Scientists suggest that the small plastic fibers they have found come from household septic tanks may carry a wash out.
Previously, clothing was identified as a major source of microplastic contamination, with each wash potentially releasing hundreds of thousands of small plastic fibers. In this latest study, the highest concentration of plastics in a sample is about 15 particles per liter.
That does not mean much at the moment. There is not enough data on groundwater microplasms to teach scientists whether this is a lot. In addition, we still do not know much about the impact of microplasms on our bodies, so there is no concentration that is considered dangerous or illegal.
"Research on this subject is at a very early stage, so I'm not convinced that we have a reference framework to determine the expectations or the limits of what is considered to be low or high," said Tim Hoelin, professor of biology at Loyola University . Chicago and co-author of the new study in a press release. "Our questions are still fundamental: how many and where does it come from?"
These researchers did not just find microplastics in the water. They also find drugs and household pollutants, supporting the idea that particles originate from household septic systems.
A study, discovered earlier this year, found some microplasms in groundwater, but not enough to trigger alarms. Last year, in a separate study, it was warned that the impact of microplasms on ecosystems on land, including soils and freshwater, could be as damaging as ocean impacts.
This new study is just the last one that reminds us that local water supply systems can be vulnerable. And whether the microplasms enter our drinking water or our fish, they finally return to us.