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Plastic pollution, so refereshing

Tim Nelson
May 14, 2018

It’s no grand secret that the world’s waterways are choked with plastic. Tiny particles found in everything from shopping bags to shampoo have a nasty habit of showing up in our water supply, despite even the best filtration efforts. While the situation in the Great Lakes isn’t quite as dire as the infamous Pacific garbage patch, a recent study suggests that this plastic pollution has made its way into a number of the upper midwest’s beers.

Authored by scientists at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and SUNY Fredonia, the paper published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS One determined that anthropogenic particles (a fancy way of saying man-made pollutants) were found in twelve different brands of beer brewed in the Great Lakes region. Collectively, the breweries got their water from all five of the Great Lakes. On average, there were 4.05 particles of uninvited plastics per liter in the samples taken, which were mostly from pilsners given the difficulty of filtering wheat beers and stouts.

Luckily for the breweries involved, the team behind the study is keeping their identity a secret. “Our intention is not to shame anybody,” study co-author Mary Kosuth told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We're really just trying to find out how widespread this stuff is in the environment. It points to the fact that microplastics are just so ubiquitous, so pervasive in our environment, that they are showing up in all kinds of products."

The decision to analyze the presence of anthropogenics in Great Lakes beer was informed by a similar 2014 study dedicated to German beers. When measured against those standards, things up in the midwest aren’t looking so bad: samples from those biers had a mean of 22.6 particles per liter, an average that’s higher than the most contaminated sample collected in this latest study. The study postulates that the difference between countries (as well as between the samples collected domestically) could have something to do with variations in the brewing process.

Of course, the kicker is that our water supply is worse than what you’d find in Germany. According to the study, tap water in municipalities spanning from Buffalo, New York to Duluth, Minnesota showed traces of microplastics, with the average sample featuring 5.45 particles per liter, more than the average of 3.60 per liter collected in the EU. Given the number of tap water-derived beverages we consume, the study estimates that equals 4400 particles ingested per year by women and 5800 by men.

If the study has any takeaway, then, it’s that the only safe thing to do in our polluted hellhole is to drink less water and more beer. Not only will it chase away bad thoughts about the existential threat posed by severe, ongoing climate change, it’ll probably fill you up with less little pieces of plastic to boot. To your health!

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