The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on August 22, 2019, investigating human exposure to microplastics in drinking water and their potential health impacts. The report bases its analysis on 50 studies reporting microplastic concentrations in drinking water or its freshwater sources, and it summarizes human health risks from the physical hazard of the particles themselves, from the chemicals in the particles, and from microorganisms that can attach to and grow on microplastics. Overall, the study did not find current risks to human health based on the evidence available.

“We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere –  including in our drinking-water,” said Maria Neira from WHO in a press release. “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.” Lack of a clear health risk, however, is not a reason to ignore the increasing plastic pollution in the environment. The report emphasized that “irrespective of whether there are any risks to human health from ingestion of microplastics in drinking-water, there is a need to improve management of plastics and reduce plastic pollution to protect the environment and human well-being.” It also said that the issue “should not divert resources of water suppliers and regulators from removing microbial pathogens, which remains the most significant risk to human health from drinking-water along with other chemical priorities.”

The most frequently detected microplastic particles in fresh water were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP), with sources including surface run-off, wastewater effluent, sewer overflows, industrial effluent, and degraded plastic waste. Some microplastics may also come from treatment and distribution systems and/or the bottling process for bottled water. Looking ahead, the WHO has called for more research into the issue to better understand and minimize the sources of plastic pollution, including improving the quality of study design. “In general, there is a need to improve, standardize and harmonize microplastic sampling and analysis in water; most studies conducted to date are not considered fully reliable.”


WHO (August 2019). “Microplastics in drinking-water.”(pdf)

Koelmans, A. et. al. (2019). “Microplastics in freshwaters and drinking water: Critical review and assessment of data quality.” Water Research, 155: 410-422

Read more

WHO (August 22, 2019). “Who calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution.”

Katie Hunt (August 22, 2019). “Microplastics in drinking water ‘don’t appear to pose health risk,’ WHO says.” CNN

Der Spiegel (August 22, 2019). “Wie gefährlich ist Mikroplastik in Trinkwasser?(in German)

Rachel Arthur (August 22, 2019). “Microplastics in bottled water ‘don’t appear to pose a health risk,’ says WHO.Beverage Daily

Plastics News Europe (August 22, 2019). “WHO calls for more research into microplastics.

Gerardo Fortuna (September 3, 2019). “WHO says microplastics in water not a health risk, more research needed.Euractiv

Catherine Benson Wahlen (September 3, 2019). “WHO examines health risks, mitigation of microplastics.