New research points to a simple way to remove microplastic particles from tap water

Small plastic particles can seem almost impossible to remove. They seem to be ubiquitous: They've been found in food, water, breast milk and even clouds, according to yahoo!news. However, the latest research indicates that plastic microparticles can be eliminated from drinking water, and the solution is extremely simple.

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In a new paper published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, Zhanjun Li and Eddy Y. Zeng report that boiling and filtering water helped remove up to nearly 90 percent of small plastic particles. They were identified in 129 of 159 tap water samples from 14 countries around the world.

The impact of consuming these small particles is not yet well understood. A recent World Health Organization report cited a number of possible health risks from exposure to microplastics, but also said more research needs to be done.

“Scientific research takes a lot of time”, said Chris Reddy, a senior researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved in the new study. “The big picture is still being worked out.”

Boiling water removes microplastic particles

For their study, Zhanjun Li and Eddy Y. Zeng, professors at Guangzhou Medical University and Jinan University, respectively, “created” tap water with all the usual minerals and chemicals, plus microplastics. They wanted to understand whether simply boiling water would be effective in removing plastic from the water's content.

The most relevant results were obtained especially in the case of “hard” water or water with high concentrations of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. At high enough temperatures, the calcium carbonate (commonly found in tap water) solidifies, effectively encapsulating or “encrusting” the plastic particles and making them easy to remove with a simple filter like it would be a coffee filter.

How effective is boiling water at home?

The researchers said much work remains to be done to fully understand the impact of microplastics on human health, on the one hand, and the benefits of boiling and filtering drinking water to remove them, on the other. Because water quality and the amount of plastic in water varies from region to region, this strategy may be more or less effective depending on where you live.

“This study is intended to stimulate more studies,” the scientists wrote in their new paper. But they also noted that boiling water is relatively easy to do and has other health benefits, such as killing potentially harmful microbes, parasites and viruses.

If you want to experiment at home with removing plastic from water by boiling it, the researchers cautioned that you should wait 5 to 10 minutes to let the solids settle and let the water cool. Then you can filter out the solids.

Chris Reddy, a senior research fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says people shouldn't start boiling all their drinking water, especially since it might be less effective with “softer” water. But part of what he found gratifying about the new work is how accessible the solution is.

“Will we be able to vacuum up every piece of plastic that is already on Earth? Not! But I think we can make significant, large-scale changes to how plastic potentially impacts our present.” – said the researcher.