For the first time ever, scientists have identified microscopic plastic particles in the bloodstreams of a majority of test subjects, an alarming discovery highlighting a dangerously toxic problem for humans.
Once inside the bloodstream, the microplastics derived from various external sources can travel throughout the body and damage human cells, or bio-accumulate in organs, leading to death, according to Dutch scientists.
The Guardian has more on the study:
The scientists analysed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults and found plastic particles in 17. Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.
“Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – it’s a breakthrough result,” said Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.” Further studies by a number of groups are already under way, he said.
Vethaak added that “It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” and noted microplastics have also been found in the feces of babies that were fed with plastic bottles.
“We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” the researcher warned. “That worries me a lot.”
Several major questions linger, including whether the plastics remain in the body, and if they’re able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, which could mean they’re transported to organs, the scientist notes.
While the discovery of microplastics in the bloodstream is new, scientists had previously found endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to plastics such as Bisphenol A (BPA) in the bloodstreams of 86 percent of teenagers.
The gender-bending chemical BPA “mimics the female sex hormone estrogen, and has been linked to low sperm counts and infertility in men, as well as breast and prostate cancer,” reports the Daily Mail.
Scientists have also warned BPA and other chemicals found in everyday household products and food packaging, including phthalates and parabens, could also be responsible for male infertility problems, causing penises to shrink worldwide, in addition to a host of genital defects.
Microplastics have also been found in seafood tested in Australia, including oysters, prawns, squid, crabs and sardines, leading to warnings for consumers.
“Considering an average serving, a seafood eater could be exposed to approximately 0.7mg of plastic when ingesting an average serving of oysters or squid, and up to 30mg of plastic when eating sardines, respectively,” the study’s lead author stated.
The air we breathe may also be impacted by microplastics, say scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who say the problem goes far beyond ocean ecosystems.
“It’s not just an ocean problem,” says Professor Rob Hale. “There’s growing evidence that microplastics are distributed across the land surface and in the air. We’re finally opening up the other boxes and discovering a pretty substantial footprint.”
“There have been concerns about ingesting microplastics from seafood, but the indoor environment is our biggest direct threat,” he continued. “Many people in developed countries spend almost all their time indoors, in spaces that are increasingly air-tight and insulated with things like polystyrene foam. Our exposure to microplastics from breathing and ingesting indoor dust may have toxicological consequences, but there’s been very little research.”
In 2019, a study by researchers at Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research found that around 90 percent of plastic waste polluting earth’s oceans comes from Asia and Africa.
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