Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt

Mary Kosuth, Sherri A. Mason, Elizabeth V Wattenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

597 Scopus citations


Plastic pollution has been well documented in natural environments, including the open waters and sediments within lakes and rivers, the open ocean and even the air, but less attention has been paid to synthetic polymers in human consumables. Since multiple toxicity studies indicate risks to human health when plastic particles are ingested, more needs to be known about the presence and abundance of anthropogenic particles in human foods and beverages. This study investigates the presence of anthropogenic particles in 159 samples of globally sourced tap water, 12 brands of Laurentian Great Lakes beer, and 12 brands of commercial sea salt. Of the tap water samples analyzed, 81% were found to contain anthropogenic particles. The majority of these particles were fibers (98.3%) between 0.1–5 mm in length. The range was 0 to 61 particles/L, with an overall mean of 5.45 particles/L. Anthropogenic debris was found in each brand of beer and salt. Of the extracted particles, over 99% were fibers. After adjusting for particles found in lab blanks for both salt and beer, the average number of particles found in beer was 4.05 particles/L with a range of 0 to 14.3 particles/ L and the average number of particles found in each brand of salt was 212 particles/kg with a range of 46.7 to 806 particles/kg. Based on consumer guidelines, our results indicate the average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris from these three sources annually, with the largest contribution coming from tap water (88%).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0194970
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by the James W. Wright Scholarship which was provided by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences. This scholarship was awarded to Mary Kosuth in 2016. A portion of this work was funded through the James W. Wright Scholarship provided by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences Division. International tap water samples were provided by Chris Tyree and Dan Morrison of Orb Media. The authors would also like to thank Matt Simcik and George Maldonado for statistical assistance, and Martin Cozza for editing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Kosuth et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Dive into the research topics of 'Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this