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URMC researchers focus on potential health impact of microplastics in drinking water

Stephanie Robusto
Created: September 17, 2019 08:21 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — What's in your drinking water? Plastic polluting our waterways is a growing health concern. 

Researchers with the University of Rochester Medical Center are focusing on the smallest of particles, invisible to the human eye.

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The concern about pollutants is also changing how they want to set up their labs for the research. When one graduate student saw how much Styrofoam was being used, she decided to make a change.

"This tiny tube will come in a box like this," Francesca Agobe said. "This is all that's in the box. It has to be kept cold. It's a huge waste of space to have this amount of Styrofoam that can't be recycled and is thrown away, degrades into the environment. 

That's just one example of the Styrofoam littering labs, so Agobe decided to do something about it. She's organizing a hospital-wide collection of Styrofoam, partnering up with local company Thermal Foam.

The challenge is in how expensive it is to recycle the material, but it's an important mission as researchers learn just how many microplastic particles, including Styrene from Styrofoam, are in our drinking water.

"If you hold up a glass of water, you'll never see any of this stuff," Greg Madejski, a postdoctoral associate of biomedical engineering, said. "But because we have this filter, we can concentrate all the debris in that space, lay it out flat, and open our eyes to the diversity of particles that are possible."

The biomedical engineering team at URMC is developing tools to put in the hands of researchers to look at the tiny particles and the potential impact they have on your health.

The team is also trying to track the pollutants to find where they start in the water source and how they move through the water filtration stages. 


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