Drinking plastics? – Quantification and qualification of microplastics in drinking water distribution systems by µFTIR and Py-GCMS

Inga Vanessa Kirstein, Fides Hensel, Alessio Gomiero, Lucian Iordachescu, Alvise Vianello, Hans B. Wittgren, Jes Vollertsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


While it seems indisputable that potable water contains microplastics (MP), the actual concentrations are much debated and reported numbers vary many orders of magnitude. It is difficult to pinpoint the cause of these differences, but it might be variation between waters, variation between quantification methods, and that some studies did not live up to rigorous analytical standards. Despite the urgent need to understand human exposure by drinking water, there is a lack of trustable methods generating reliable data. Essentially, proper MP assessment requires that quality assurance is in place and demonstrated, that an adequate volume of drinking water is assessed, and that differences in analytical methods are understood. This study presents a systematic and robust approach where MP down to 6.6 µm were assessed in potable water distribution systems in terms of quantity, size, shape, and material. For the first time, sub-samples were analysed by two of the most validated and complementary analytical techniques: µFTIR imaging and Py-GCMS. Both methods successfully determined low contents in drinking water. However, µFTIR and Py-GCMS identified different polymer types in samples with overall low MP content. With increasing concentration of a given polymer type, the values determined by the techniques became more comparable. Most detected MPs were smaller than 150 µm, and 32 % were smaller than 20 µm. Our results indicate a potential annual uptake of less than one MP per person, suggesting that drinking potable water produced at a high-performance drinking water treatment plant represents a low risk for human health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116519
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Small microplastic
  • Microplastic mass quantification
  • Drinking water treatment plants
  • Human health


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