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      Microplastics in freshwaters and drinking water: Critical review and assessment of data quality


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          Microplastics have recently been detected in drinking water as well as in drinking water sources. This presence has triggered discussions on possible implications for human health. However, there have been questions regarding the quality of these occurrence studies since there are no standard sampling, extraction and identification methods for microplastics. Accordingly, we assessed the quality of fifty studies researching microplastics in drinking water and in its major freshwater sources. This includes an assessment of microplastic occurrence data from river and lake water, groundwater, tap water and bottled drinking water. Studies of occurrence in wastewater were also reviewed. We review and propose best practices to sample, extract and detect microplastics and provide a quantitative quality assessment of studies reporting microplastic concentrations. Further, we summarize the findings related to microplastic concentrations, polymer types and particle shapes. Microplastics are frequently present in freshwaters and drinking water, and number concentrations spanned ten orders of magnitude (1 × 10 −2 to 10 8 #/m 3) across individual samples and water types. However, only four out of 50 studies received positive scores for all proposed quality criteria, implying there is a significant need to improve quality assurance of microplastic sampling and analysis in water samples. The order in globally detected polymers in these studies is PE ≈ PP > PS > PVC > PET, which probably reflects the global plastic demand and a higher tendency for PVC and PET to settle as a result of their higher densities. Fragments, fibres, film, foam and pellets were the most frequently reported shapes. We conclude that more high quality data is needed on the occurrence of microplastics in drinking water, to better understand potential exposure and to inform human health risk assessments.

          Graphical abstract


          • Fifty studies on microplastics in drinking water and freshwater were reviewed.

          • This included lake water, groundwater, tap water and bottled drinking water.

          • The quality of the studies was quantitatively assessed.

          • Four out of fifty studies scored positive on all quality criteria.

          • To understand human health implications, more high quality data is needed.

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          Most cited references57

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          Plastic and human health: a micro issue?

          Microplastics are a pollutant of environmental concern. Their presence in food destined for human consumption and in air samples has been reported. Thus, microplastic exposure via diet or inhalation could occur, the human health effects of which are unknown. The current review article draws upon cross-disciplinary scientific literature to discuss and evaluate the potential human health impacts of microplastics and outlines urgent areas for future research. Key literature up to September 2016 relating to bioaccumulation, particle toxicity, and chemical and microbial contaminants were critically examined. Whilst this is an emerging field, complimentary existing fields indicate potential particle, chemical and microbial hazards. If inhaled or ingested, microplastics may bioaccumulate and exert localised particle toxicity by inducing or enhancing an immune response. Chemical toxicity could occur due to the localised leaching of component monomers, endogenous additives, and adsorbed environmental pollutants. Chronic exposure is anticipated to be of greater concern due to the accumulative effect which could occur. This is expected to be dose-dependent, and a robust evidence-base of exposure levels is currently lacking. Whilst there is potential for microplastics to impact human health, assessing current exposure levels and burdens is key. This information will guide future research into the potential mechanisms of toxicity and hence therein possible health effects.
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            Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption.

            Microplastics are present throughout the marine environment and ingestion of these plastic particles (<1 mm) has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting for a wide array of marine organisms. Here, we investigate the presence of microplastics in two species of commercially grown bivalves: Mytilus edulis and Crassostrea gigas. Microplastics were recovered from the soft tissues of both species. At time of human consumption, M. edulis contains on average 0.36 ± 0.07 particles g(-1) (wet weight), while a plastic load of 0.47 ± 0.16 particles g(-1) ww was detected in C. gigas. As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 microplastics per year. The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, however, due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not (yet) possible.
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              Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes

              Neuston samples were collected at 21 stations during an ~700 nautical mile (~1300 km) expedition in July 2012 in the Laurentian Great Lakes of the United States using a 333 μm mesh manta trawl and analyzed for plastic debris. Although the average abundance was approximately 43,000 microplastic particles/km², station 20, downstream from two major cities, contained over 466,000 particles/km², greater than all other stations combined. SEM analysis determined nearly 20% of particles less than 1 mm, which were initially identified as microplastic by visual observation, were aluminum silicate from coal ash. Many microplastic particles were multi-colored spheres, which were compared to, and are suspected to be, microbeads from consumer products containing microplastic particles of similar size, shape, texture and composition. The presence of microplastics and coal ash in these surface samples, which were most abundant where lake currents converge, are likely from nearby urban effluent and coal burning power plants.

                Author and article information

                Water Res
                Water Res
                Water Research
                Pergamon Press
                15 May 2019
                15 May 2019
                : 155
                : 410-422
                [a ]Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands
                [b ]Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, the Netherlands
                [c ]KWR Watercycle Research Institute, Nieuwegein, the Netherlands
                [d ]World Health Organisation (WHO), Avenue Appia 20, 1211, Geneva, Switzerland
                Author notes
                []Corresponding author. Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Group, Wageningen University & Research, P.O. 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, the Netherlands. bart.koelmans@ 123456wur.nl
                [∗∗ ]Corresponding author. defrancej@ 123456who.int
                © 2019 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

                : 27 November 2018
                : 25 February 2019
                : 26 February 2019

                Oceanography & Hydrology
                microplastics,drinking water,waste water,surface water,human health
                Oceanography & Hydrology
                microplastics, drinking water, waste water, surface water, human health


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