What’s on Tap?

By Gregory Chestler, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2019

Belfast Takes on Plastic.


Professor Chris Elliot and Dr. Cuong Cao are co-leading a project at Queen’s University Belfast to raise awareness about potentially harmful materials found in tap water, bottled water, and other goods that humans ingest regularly.

The story has been told before – plastic waste is bad for the environment – however, what’s different about the work being done in Belfast concerns just how microplastic waste affects the human body when it is digested.

The plastic found in bottles, shopping bags, industrial waste and various other packaging materials has made its way into pipelines, faucets, and drinking glasses. The job of the researchers is to discover just how hazardous these particles are.

If anyone can deliver results, it’s sure to be Professor Elliot who led an independent review on the British food system after the 2013 horsemeat scandal. Elliot is also the founder of the Research Institute for Global and Food Safety at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Due to past research, it is already known that the non-decomposable bits of waste carry bacteria from the surfaces they come into contact with; however, finding out what happens when those bits are given access to our bloodstreams could help protect everyone’s future safety.

A hopeful reaction to the findings would be legislation that tests water sources for cleanliness and limits the access to water with too high a concentration of these bacteria-ridden microplastics – the European Commission has already stated a change in drinking water standards that will be delivered into legislation by the end of 2019.

Whatever the findings reveal, one thing is for sure: from the dark days when the British army rained plastic bullets down on her citizens to being at the center for research that will hopefully restrict the amount of plastic in our drinking water, Belfast has come out on the right side of the fight. ♦

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