On 22 August The World Health Organization (WHO) requested further research into microplastics and their potential effects on human health, while also appealing to reduce plastic pollution.

This follows the release of WHO’s report which examines current evidence of microplastics in treated tap and bottled water and the potential impacts that microplastic exposure has on human health.

According to the analysis, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres are not likely to be absorbed in the human body. Uptake of smaller particles is expected to be limited, although absorption and distribution of very small microplastic particles including those in the nano size range may be higher.

There is still insufficient information to draw firm conclusions on the toxicity related to the physical hazard of plastic particles, meaning further research is needed to obtain a more accurate assessment.

Further reliable data could be produced by developing standard methods for measuring microplastic particles in water, as well as carrying out more studies on the source of microplastics in fresh water and the efficacy of different treatment processes.

According to WHO, a significant proportion of the global population currently does not benefit from adequate water and sewage treatment, which can result in faecal contamination. WHO recommends that water suppliers and regulators prioritise the removal of the microbial pathogens and chemicals that cause these diarrhoeal diseases.

In addressing the problem of human exposure to contaminated water, these wastewater and drinking-water treatment systems are also effective in removing more than 90% of microplastics.

Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health at WHO said: “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more. We also need to stop the rise in plastic pollution worldwide.”