Danish University to Address Microplastics Contamination in Drinking Water

Plastic has been one of the most significant inventions ever developed because of its versatility and relatively low cost in production. You will see it in used in almost every facet of life since the 1950s, but one growing concern is the contamination of microscopic plastic fibres that have only been recently discovered in our water systems, our air, and in our food.

Around the world, microplastics contamination has been found in tap water, prompting scientists to call for urgent research on the implications for health. An investigation led by Orb Media presented scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations for analysis by scientists and it was found that 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The United States had the highest contamination rate at 94%, followed by Lebanon and India. European countries such as the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but the rate was still high at 72%. This shows the global extent of microplastic contamination in the environment. Previous studies have focused largely on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests that microplastics can also be found via contaminated seafood.

Currently, the health impact of these microplastics remains unclear, but scientists are alarmed by the pervasiveness of this pollutant in everything we eat, drink, and breathe. These microplastics could harbor dangerous chemicals or bacteria, and are small enough to easily penetrate cells in the body.

The scale of microplastic contamination globally is beginning to become clear. Studies in Germany found fibres and fragments in all the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris, researchers found microplastics falling from the air, which they estimated deposits 3 to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year. It was also present in the air in people’s homes.

It is still a mystery how these microplastics ended up in the drinking water, but the atmosphere may be the most obvious culprit, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers may be another potential source because 80% of US households use dryers that vent to the open air. It may also be flushed because washing machines, for example, could expel up to 700,000 fibres into our water systems. Rains can likewise carry microplastics which has been speculated as the reason that even household wells in Indonesia are contaminated. Even in Beirut, Lebanon, where the water supply comes from natural springs, samples showed a contamination of 94%.

Standard water treatment systems don’t filter out all of the microplastics and even bottled water are susceptible to contamination. With about 300m tonnes of plastic produced each year and only 20% are recycled or incinerated, there is much that ends up polluting the air, land and sea.

Scientists from the Aarhus University in Denmark, however, may be on to a possible solution. Their new project called Bonus Cleanwater aims to reduce the input of microplastics into the Baltic Sea by using a variety of new eco-technological approaches. They have proposed more efficient ways of ozonation, using moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBR) in reducing pharmaceutical wastes by a factor of 20, more effective membrane filters, and new biofilters which will be used in decentralized applications. The study is currently ongoing and will be completing its 2 year run by April 2019.

The project will work with the following work packages to reach the goals:
• WP1, Assessment of relevant pollution loads from stormwater and wastewater discharges into the Baltic
WP leader: Aalborg University

• WP2, Environmental effective optimization of ozonation
WP leader: Lund University

• WP3, Exploring and developing MBBR
WP leader: Veolia Water Technology

• WP4, Exploring and developing membrane based solutions ceramic MBR/Biomimetic membranes
WP leader: Aarhus University

• WP5, Biofilters for decentralised treatment of wastewater and stormwater
WP leader: Aarhus University

• WP6, Comparative assessment of cost effectiveness and of environmental performance
WP leader: Lund University

• WP7, Novel methods for determination of micro-pollutants and micro-plastic in wastewater, stormwater and leachate from landfills
WP leader: Aarhus University

• WP8, Dissemination & Communication
WP leader: Sweden Water Research

BONUS is funded jointly from the national research funding institutions in the eight EU member states around the Baltic Sea and the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration by a total of EUR 100 million for the years 2011–2017.

If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.


Danish University to Address Microplastics Contamination in Drinking Water
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