Recent national media coverage has highlighted the issue of microfibers and microplastics found in some water samples. Because of these stories, the public may have questions regarding the possible presence of microplastics in local water supplies.
This is an emerging issue and the EPA doesn’t currently regulate it or have standardized methods developed for testing in water supplies. It is very important to emphasize that while treated water provided by the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) is in full compliance with current federal and state regulations, NTMWD is consistently striving to implement better technologies for treating water. One such technology is biologically activated filters, which will help to remove compounds (e.g. pharmaceuticals, organic pollutants) not usually removed by traditional methods of treatment. NTMWD is investing millions of dollars in this improved filtration at our Wylie water treatment facilities.
Microplastics are defined as plastic particles under 5 millimeters (mm). Some plastic is manufactured as microplastics (e.g., microbeads) and washed down drains, while larger plastic debris degrades into micro-sized particles over time with exposure to sun and water.
Microfibers, a type of microplastics, are derived from synthetic textiles and slough off during daily use and machine washing of clothing (such as fleece jackets, etc.). Upwards of 60% of all clothing is now made of synthetic materials and polyester is the most popular. These fibers get into our wastewater every time you wash your clothes. Most microfibers released in water are between 0.1–0.8 mm in size.
Larger particles are typically filtered out during treatment. There have been studies that show that over 90% of microplastics are removed during the wastewater treatment process through sedimentation and filtration, but what doesn’t get filtered out in that process can end up in our waterways and sources of supply for drinking water. This is an environmental issue not limited to water; microfibers are also found in the air we breathe.
NTMWD conducts more than 250,000 water quality tests annually as part of our water treatment process. Results can be found in our latest Consumer Confidence Report. In addition to water testing at Lavon Lake and our other water sources, NTMWD works closely with member and customer cities and providers on water quality tests they conduct.
We will continue to follow the water industry and scientific research as further breakthroughs are made on this issue. For more ways the public can help protect water quality, visit the water quality page on www.NTMWD.com.
Other sources on this topic include:
- U.S. EPA: Summary of Expert Discussion Forum on Possible Human Health Risks from Microplastics in the Marine Environment
- Water Research Foundation: Media Coverage of Microplastics in Water and Talking Points to Help
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: What are microplastics?