Can Simply Boiling Water Combat Nano- and Microplastic Pollution?

by | Apr 3, 2024

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In the relentless quest to mitigate the omnipresence of nano- and microplastics (NMPs) in our environment, a study highlighted in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology Letters presents a surprisingly simple yet effective strategy: boiling tap water. This commonplace act, akin to preparing a morning cup of tea or coffee, could play a pivotal role in curtailing human consumption of NMPs. With NMPs infiltrating our water, soil, and air, their removal from drinking water has become a critical environmental challenge. NMPs, varying in size from one-thousandth of a millimeter to 5 millimeters, pose potential risks to human health, particularly in affecting the gut microbiome.

A Novel Approach to Water Purification

The research, led by Zhanjun Li and Eddy Zeng, explores the efficacy of boiling in removing NMPs from hard and soft tap water. By conducting experiments with complex tap water samples from Guangzhou, China, spiked with NMPs and boiled for five minutes, the team discovered that the boiling process induces the formation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) incrusts. These crystalline structures effectively encapsulate the plastic particles, allowing them to be removed with minimal effort. According to Zeng, this limescale-like buildup, common in hard water, can subsequently be scrubbed away or eliminated through simple filtration methods, such as using a coffee filter.

The study reveals that the encapsulation effect is more pronounced in hard water, with up to 90% of free-floating NMPs removed in samples containing 300 milligrams of CaCO3 per liter. Even in soft water, with less than 60 milligrams of CaCO3 per liter, boiling eliminated about 25% of NMPs. This finding suggests that boiling tap water is a viable and low-cost method to reduce NMP intake significantly.

Further Research and Industry Involvement

While the study presents an accessible solution to a pressing environmental issue, it underscores the necessity for additional research to fully understand the impact of NMPs on human health and refine methods for their removal at scale. The effectiveness of boiling water as a purification method opens the door for water utilities and forward-thinking companies to develop products that promote the removal of microplastics or to enhance their offerings with ingredients certified as microplastic-free.

This research sheds light on a novel and simple approach to reducing NMP consumption and highlights the importance of continued scientific inquiry and innovation in the fight against plastic pollution. With support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the findings offer a glimpse into a future where simple, everyday actions could significantly contribute to environmental protection and public health.

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