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Irish Scientists Discover Tap Water Protects Against Microplastics

Irish scientists have discovered that tap water can form a coating on plastic materials over time that prevents harmful microplastics from being disseminated and consumed by us.

The research was conducted by scientists from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for advanced materials and bioengineering research, and published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.

Prof John Boland of AMBER and the Trinity College Dublin (TCD) School of Chemistry, who co-led the study, said that his team found items such as plastic kettles develop a protective skin after being in regular contact with tap water, preventing the release of microplastics.

Unlike the distilled water used in laboratories, which was used for previous similar experiments, tap water is not pure H2O because it contains trace elements and minerals – making it a more natural type of water to work with in this research, Boland explained.

Boland said, “rather than the plastics falling apart, the minerals coat the plastic and prevent any kind of degradation and so the product becomes microplastic free. For example, that dark brown colour in your kettle is a good thing.”

The “dark brown colour” often seen in kitchen items such as kettles is copper oxide, which forms from the high copper content in tap water. Copper minerals, present in tap water from the copper pipes in houses, form the protective layer against microplastics.

Boland co-led the research along with Dr Jing Jing Wang, who is also a researcher at AMBER and a professor at TCD’s School of Chemistry. Both are involved in CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at TCD.

Boland continued, “this discovery is important because we have learned that these types of protective skins can be manufactured in the laboratory and directly applied to the plastic without having to wait for it to build up naturally. This discovery also shows that nature is leading the way, pointing to solutions to what is a very significant problem facing our modern high-tech society.”

The research team was supported by Enterprise Ireland, SFI, the School of Engineering scholarship at TCD, the China Scholarship Council and the Irish Research Council.

Source: IDA Ireland

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