Is your tap water safe? Calls for more research on the dangers of plastic fibres


A leading ecologist has called for more investigation into the health impacts of microfibres in Australia as new tests revealed 83 per cent of samples taken from across the world were contaminated by the pollutant.

University of New South Wales ecologist Mark Anthony Browne has called on more research to be done into the health impacts of microfibres found in Australia's tap water.

A new investigation by Orb Media found 83 per cent of the 159 drinking water samples collected from countries across the world were contaminated.

In light of this study, Dr Browne, from UNSW's School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said researchers now needed to tackle the question of how microfibres affected the human body. 

During Orb Media's investigation, samples were collected from the UK, Germany, France, the US and Indonesia, according to The Guardian.

It was found the US had the highest rate of pollution with 94 per cent of fibres present in samples.

Contamination was seen in water taken from the US Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, Congress and New York's Trump Tower - which had similar levels of fibres seen in Lebanon and Uganda.

An average of 4.8 fibres were found in 500mL water in the US compared to 1.9 across the continent of Europe.

Through previous research, Dr Browne had been unable to determine how many microfibres were present in Australia's tap water.

By looking at what washes up on beaches he found 65 per cent of materials on the coastline were clothing fibres.

Mark Anthony Browne
Dr Mark Anthony Browne, from UNSW, said he was the first to discover microfibres in Australia.

Most of the clothing fibres were coming from polyester fleeces - a material where 1,900 fibres come off in every wash.

"When we treated the environment, we were seeing acrylic, polyester and nylon fibres, and we tried to find out where it was coming from," Dr Browne told SBS World News.

"What we found was where there is more people, there is more plastic."

But Dr Browne said even though the toxicity of plastic was well-established, there had been no research done to see the extent of the problem.

He said certain types of medicines were made from plastic which were carried into organisms and those tiny particles of plastic can transfer from the lungs, into the body and into the bloodstream where it can remain for months.

"The question is now that we’ve seen the quantity we are taking in through water or through our food or through our air, are they a problem for us?" Dr Browne said.

"These products were allowed to go onto the market. What we have now is that we have people asking those pertinent questions for humans or wildlife.

"It is very diffcult to do that research because that’s not funded by the government or the [plastics] industry.

"We see consumers being blamed for their choices but we are seeing very little information given to consumers."

Dr Browne, who tries to educate people of the risks and reduce the use of toxic fibres through an initiative called Benign By Design, also pointed out natural fibres were not exempt from risk.

"People have this misconception that we can resolve this issue by choosing natural fibres," he told SBS World News.

"There’s been lots of studies that cotton wool and lots of other fibres and asbestos, which is also a natural fibre, can cause health problems."

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