WHO calls for more research into impact of microplastics on human health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday called for further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.

This followed the release of an analysis of current research related to microplastics in drinking-water.

The WHO released its latest and the first report, Microplastics in Drinking-Water, on Thursday to examine the potential human health risks associated with exposure to tiny, often microscopic pieces of plastic known as “micro-plastics” in the environment.

Microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment and have been detected in a broad range of concentrations in marine water, wastewater, fresh water, food, air and drinking-water, both bottled and tap water, the WHO said.

WHO added that potential hazards associated with microplastics come in three forms: physical particles, chemicals and microbial pathogens as part of biofilms.

Based on limited evidence available, chemicals and biofilms associated with microplastics in drinking-water pose a low concern for human health, according to the report.

In spite of insufficient information to draw firm conclusions on the toxicity related to the physical hazard of plastic particles, particularly for the nano size particles, no reliable information suggests it is a concern.

However, the WHO cautioned that the data on the occurrence of microplastics in drinking-water were limited at present, with few fully reliable studies using different methods and tools to sample and analyse microplastic particles.

While calling for further research to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health, the WHO also gave a set of recommendation to deal with the microplastics.

It said that water suppliers and regulators should continue to prioritise removing microbial pathogens and chemicals from drinking-water that are known significant risks to human health.

This can be done by optimising water treatment processes for particle removal and microbial safety and routinely monitoring microplastics in drinking-water for the time being.

Meanwhile, researchers should undertake targeted, well-designed and quality-controlled investigative studies to better understand the occurrence of microplastics in the water cycle and in drinking-water.

This is carried out throughout the water supply chain, the sources of microplastic pollution and the uptake, fate and health effects of microplastics under relevant exposure scenarios.

It also called on policy makers to take measures and the public to better manage plastics and reduce the use of plastics where possible, so as to minimise plastics released into the environment.

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