Your tap water may contain plastic, researchers warn

A study based on samples from 14 countries says people may be ingesting between 3,000 and 4,000 microparticles of plastic from tap water every year. (AFP file photo)
Updated 06 September 2017
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Your tap water may contain plastic, researchers warn

PARIS: People may be ingesting between 3,000 and 4,000 microparticles of plastic from tap water every year, said a study Wednesday based on samples from 14 countries.
While the health risks are unknown, the researchers pointed to previous findings that plastic particles can absorb, and release, potentially harmful chemicals and bacteria.
For the survey, 159 tap water samples were analyzed of which “83 percent were found to contain plastic particles,” researchers from the University of Minnesota and the State University of New York wrote in a report entitled: “Invisibles: The plastic inside us.”
While much research has focused on plastic pollution of lakes, rivers, the ocean, beaches, even the air we breathe, less attention has been paid to its presence in human consumables, said the team.
This was the first study to look at micro-plastics in drinking water, they added.
Samples were collected in the first three months of the year in Kampala, Uganda; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Beirut, Lebanon; Quito, Ecuador; several cities in the United States and in seven European countries.
All were sent to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, for lab testing.
By far the majority of particles found were fibers ranging from 0.1 to five millimeters (0.004-0.2 inches) in length.
The range was from zero to 57 particles per liter of water, with an average of 4.34 particles per liter.
“The highest density of plastic per volume of tap water was found in North America and the lowest densities were found, collectively, in seven European countries,” wrote the team.
Based on liquid consumption of three liters (6.3 US pints) per day, as recommended, a man may consume as many as 14 plastic particles daily if his chosen beverages were tap water or made with tap water, said the authors.
For women, this would amount to about 10 particles for an intake of 2.2 liters.
“These daily doses add up to an annual total of over 4,000 for men and over 3,000 for women,” wrote the team.
“These plastic particles are in addition to plastics potentially consumed in other products, such as sea salt, beer and seafood.”
A study in January said a European shellfish consumer may be ingesting up to 11,000 micro plastics per year from that source alone.
The researchers used the same plastic containers in which the samples were collected to test treated water from the lab, to rule out plastic contamination from the bottle itself.
“The results of this study serve... as an initial glimpse at the consequences of human plastic use (and) disposal rather than a comprehensive assessment of global plastic contamination,” the team concluded.
They called for further tests to gather more data about potential pollution sources and pathways, as well as the risks to human health.
Micro-plastics are less than 5 mm long, about the size of a sesame seed. They come in the form of “micro-beads” used in scrubs and toothpaste, and can also be created when larger pieces of plastic waste degrade.


Babel La Mer: Dining aboard the fisherman’s deck

Updated 10 August 2018
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Babel La Mer: Dining aboard the fisherman’s deck

  • Mezze is already a full-on feast of its own, and Babel knows how to put an ocean-twist on the traditional champions of Lebanon’s “tapas”
  • “Arabic restaurants depend on how good their hummus is”

Standing tall at the southern entrance of Dubai’s trendy, seaside open-air strip La Mer, Lebanese restaurant Babel welcomes diners to enjoy a Mediterranean seafood experience.

Upon entering the high-ceilinged restaurant, diners are met with a faux-night sky that hovers above the wide selection of fresh fish tidily nestled on a bed of ice chips that stretches across the hall. Charbel, an experienced fish connoisseur, stands behind the assortment, detailing the different types of fish and crustaceans and how they would be best enjoyed — grilled, fried or raw. He’s also there to make sure you don’t over-order, as the mezze selection is “extremely rich and worth every bite,” as he put it.

He was right. After taking our seats, we were served a delightful salty algae, a tangy chili sauce and the typical Lebanese mixed nuts and sunflower seeds you’d find at any Lebanese restaurant. Be sure to only take a bit of each though — there’s plenty more to come. 

Mezze is already a full-on feast of its own, and Babel knows how to put an ocean-twist on the traditional champions of Lebanon’s “tapas.” Among the winners — and highly recommended dishes that are must-orders for any first-time (and surely second- or third-) visitors — were the shrimps fatteh (a bed of shrimps sautéed with garlic, lemon and parsley topped with yoghurt, eggplants and fried pita bread) and Tabboulet El Bahar (Arabic for Sailor’s Tabbouleh) which features shrimps mixed with wheat sprouts, tomatoes, onions and parsley. It’s refreshing when experimentation with classic staples yields mouthwatering results.

My father always told me, “Arabic restaurants depend on how good their hummus is.” And as he’s a heavy-set, stubborn Lebanese man who refuses to have a below-par bite, you can take his word for it. He would, I believe, have ordered three plates of the Hummus Beiruti for the table. It’s a pleasantly tangy dish mixed with radishes, parsley and mint. This, accompanied by the well-dressed shrimps and octopus à la Provençale (read: sautéed with garlic, lemon and parsley) and small, crispy cubes of batata harra (spicy potatoes) are the deserving opening acts to the much-awaited main show.

Charbel recommended we go with the ultimate trifecta of the ocean — the prongs of Poseidon’s trident: Grilled jumbo shrimps, fried Sultan Ibrahim (threadfin bream) and charcoal-grilled sea bass. Seafood is all about freshness and too much seasoning can overpower the natural flavors and ruin the whole experience. But Babel makes sure it’s the fish flavor that takes center stage. Small bits of burnt charcoal on the butterfly-opened sea bass complemented the tender fish flesh, as they did on the jumbo shrimps. The Sultan Ibrahim was lightly fried — not so much as to have Greenpeace protest an oil spill, but enough to make the outer skin crunchy with every bite and keep the inner flesh soft and succulent. 

After all that, it’s safe to say that we weren’t just stuffed... we were primed to explode. 

After clearing the table, our server brought us the desert menu, only for us to rapidly wave him away — “Please, no more...” — while patting our bloated bellies. However, he insisted we try the Ghazlieh, the Arabic version of cotton candy, topped with lotus-cookie chunks and caramel sauce. Our resolve already defeated by the mere description of this — and, honestly, what’s an Arabic feast without desert? — we gracefully acquiesced.

I woke up the next morning wishing I had had more of it. The featherlight cotton candy hairs melted into sugar crystals on the tip of our tongues while swing dancing with the cookie bits and caramel sauce, only to be lit up by the vanilla ice-cream hidden at the bottom.

Stop salivating and book a table.