You heard that right: Not even our sacred beer is safe from plastic anymore. That’s according to a new study published in the Public Library of Science’s open access journal this week. The three-person team specializes in plastics pollution research, but this was their first time taking a look at the man-made synthetic material in U.S. beer (and sea salt).
They found that beer, on average, included 4.05 man-made particles, mostly plastic fibers, per liter—similar to how much we might find in our tap water. If the findings turn out to be generalizable, the researchers estimate a beer a day could amount to 520 particles annually.
They sampled twelve beer brands between January and April 2017—all whose brewing involved municipal water from one of the five Laurentian Great Lakes. We’re talking Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. The authors don’t call out beer brands by name, but they used mostly pilsners that were purchased from various states, including New York and Minnesota. Why did they focus on this region? Well, the Great Lakes are full of microplastics.
“If there’s plastic in water, and that water is being used to brew beer, would we find plastic in the beer?” said Sherri Mason, one of the study authors who teaches chemistry at the State University of New York at Fredonia, to Earther.
Turns out that the Great Lakes water didn’t appear to be the source of this plastic, though. The study couldn’t conclude what was, but the plastic concentrations found in the beer differed from the plastic concentrations found in the municipal water used to brew the drinks. Despite the fact that beer and tap water on average contained similar numbers of particles, there was no direct correlation. As the study put it, this “would seem to indicate that any contamination within the beer is not just from the water used to brew the beer itself.” Somewhere along the production process, plastics were sneaking into cans, glasses, and growlers.
What left Mason most surprised by the results was just how pervasive plastics have become. A study out last month—whose research was also used in this new analysis—found microplastics in 93 percent of bottled water tested from around the world. We often associate plastic pollution with the oceans, which can make the issue feel separate from our daily lives. But it’s everywhere now, and it’s our fault.
“There are no natural sources of plastic,” Mason told Earther. “It’s a purely synthetic man-made material. If we’re finding it in our water, our beer, our sea salt, and our seafood, and our air, then maybe we need to think about what we can do to reduce our use of this material so that it’s not coming back to harm us.”
Human health impacts from ingesting plastics remain uncertain, but as Mason put it, even an eight-year-old knows not to eat the stuff. The World Health Organization announced last month it would begin reviewing the impacts of plastic in drinking water.
Until then, as one of my friends told me, perhaps IPA should stand for India Plastic Ale. What a damn shame.