A recent study by the University of Illinois found that karst aquifers – groundwater ecosystems made up of creviced carbonate rock, and that make up one-quarter of global drinking water sources – are now contaminated with microplastic particles.

Diagram showing ground layers in relation to a karst aquifer at the bottom.

Examining 17 groundwater samples from areas near the St. Louis metropolitan area and rural northwestern Illinois, researchers discovered that 16 of the 17 samples contained microplastic particles, and at a concentration comparable to those found in rivers and streams in the Chicago area.

Diagram of surface waste runoff seeping down to contaminate a karst aquifer.

Analysis suggests that these karst aquifers are contaminated from groundwater seepage that includes sewage and runoff from roads, landfills, and agricultural areas, and even include traces of pharmaceuticals and household contaminants.

Unfortunately, the limited research available on the effects of microplastic contamination precludes them from determining how their spread to underground aquifers will affect the health of the general populace. What this study does offer is more support for the continued study and awareness of plastic contamination in water, as it is becoming an almost distressing certainty that a great many people have inadvertently ingested microplastic particles through contaminated water.

To read the complete study, please visit https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gwat.12862