With a rise in pollution due to plastic waste disposal, microplastic pollutants that harm human health are also garnering concern. Recent health studies have identified the presence of microplastics in drinking water and seafood, and the WHO has called for more research on their adverse impacts on human health, says a Forbes report.
A new study, that was demonstrated at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting, has found microplastics inside human organs for the first time.
What was the Study?
Scientists define microplastics as particles of plastic of size less than 5mm in diameter.
“You can find plastics contaminating the environment at virtually every location on the globe and in a few short decades, we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat,” says Charles Rolsky from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, who presented the work at the meeting.
“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies, but very few studies have looked for it there.”Charles Rolsky, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University
Research has shown that humans do ingest microplastics, which then pass through our digestive system. However, not much is known about the consequent health effects they have on humans.
“At this point, we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard,” said Rolsky.
To study this, Rolsky and his colleagues accessed human tissue samples from 24 individuals.
The samples were obtained from organs which are more likely to be exposed to microplastics, such as the lungs, kidney, liver or spleen. In almost each sample that was tested, researchers found some plastic particles, including Bisphenol A (BPA), that is commonly found in plastic bottles and containers.
Should We Be Concerned?
“We never want to be alarmist, but it is concerning that these non-biodegradable materials that are present everywhere can enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we don’t know the possible health effects.”Varun Kelkar, Graduate Student at ASU
“Once we get a better idea of what’s in the tissues, we can conduct epidemiological studies to assess human health outcomes. That way, we can start to understand the potential health risks, if any,” he added.
Prior research has indicated that microplastics promote neurotoxicity in wild fish, and cause oxidative damage which can lead to a greater risk of cancer. Occurrence of microplastics has been detected in certain insects and birds also.
(With inputs from Forbes)