A simple way to remove microplastics from drinking water.jpgw1440

A simple way to remove microplastics from drinking water

Tiny plastic particles appear to be worryingly ubiquitous and nearly impossible to remove – they have been found in food, breast milk and even clouds. But new research suggests that a simple solution could reduce microplastics in drinking water: boiling.

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 tiny plastic particles, which they say are found in 129 of them 159 tap water samples from 14 countries worldwide.

The effects of consuming these tiny particles are not yet fully understood. A recent report from the World Health Organization highlights a number of possible health risks posed by exposure to microplastics, but also suggests that more research needs to be done.

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

“Ultimately,” he added, “you will always want to limit non-natural things in your intake.”

Why boiling water reduces microplastics

For their study, Li and Zeng, professors at Guangzhou Medical University and Jinan University, respectively, created simulated tap water with all common minerals and chemicals – and microplastics. They wanted to find out whether simply boiling water would effectively remove the tiny plastic particles.

What they found was dramatic—particularly in “hard” water, or water with high concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium. At high enough temperatures, calcium carbonate (commonly found in tap water) solidifies, effectively encapsulating or “encrusting” the plastic particles and making them easy to remove through a simple filter, such as a coffee filter.

Should you try this at home?

The researchers said via email that there is still much work to be done to fully understand the effects of microplastics on human health — and the benefits of boiling and filtering drinking water to remove them. Since water quality and the amount of microplastics in the water vary from region to region, this strategy may be more or less effective depending on where you live.

“This study is intended to stimulate further studies,” the scientists write in their new paper. However, they also found that boiling water is relatively easy and has other health benefits – such as killing potentially harmful microbes, parasites and viruses.

If you want to try it, researchers warn that you should wait 5 to 10 minutes for the solids to settle — and let the water cool. You can then filter out the solids.

Reddy said he doesn't think people need to start boiling all their drinking water, especially since that may be less effective with “softer” water. But part of what he found hopeful about the new paper is how attainable the solution it offers is.

“Can we vacuum up every piece of plastic on earth right now? No,” said Reddy. “But I think we can make meaningful and comprehensive changes to the potential impact of plastic on our present.”