Rand Water has said that the health impact of these tiny bits of plastic (smaller than 5mm) which people have been ingesting, is unknown at this stage.
Substantial amounts of microplastics were also found in rivers in Gauteng and in borehole water in the North West province.
The study which assessed the levels of microplastic pollution in South Africa’s freshwater was commissioned by the Water Research Commission and carried out by researchers at North-West University.
Water from 43 sites in the Vaal, Mooi and Wasgoedspruit Rivers in Gauteng and the North West province, were tested, all of which contained microplastics.
The study recommended that South Africa ban the manufacture and use of microbeads.
Health impact of microbeads
Professor Henk Bouwman, one of the researchers at North-West University, said while humans and animals have evolved to deal with particles entering our bodies over millions of years, plastic particles were new in our lives.
“There is no consensus yet on any health impacts as the science is still in its infancy. It might be benign, and it might not be. There are a whole lot of things we don’t understand at this stage.”
Where do microplastics come from?
While a lot of research has been done globally on microplastic pollution in the oceans, very little has been done on microplastics in freshwater.
Rand Water has implemented a water quality management system in line with the global best practice Water Safety Plan which was established by the World Health Organisation and International Water Association.
It supplies water to more than 15 million people in Gauteng and surrounding provinces.