Microplastics Found in Human Blood?
Plastics are everywhere. Almost every facet of our lives involves plastic in one way, shape or form. Plastics can be found in food packaging, cosmetic product wrappers, in the structure of our mobiles and many more.
Although many manufacturers have taken responsible initiatives to opt for greener packaging and biodegradable materials, it’s still not enough to tackle the mounting number of difficult-to-recycle plastics that end up in our landfills and ecosystems.
Some plastics are known to be difficult to recycle because it takes hundreds of years for them to even decompose. On top of this, the often overlooked threat of microplastics also poses a burden on an already existing problem. At first glance, microplastics were found in the marine ecosystem, impacting both the environment and marine life. Now, in a completely unexpected turn, microplastic has managed to creep into our lives, to the point where it’s now found in our blood.
Whilst many are aware of plastic pollution, there’s still a significant number of people who are unaware of microplastics and their origin story. With that in mind, let’s delve in, shall we?
What is microplastic?
The term micro is used to define substances or objects that are extremely small. When combined with the word plastic, microplastic brings the meaning of tiny plastic particles. Something is considered microplastic if it’s derived from plastic and measures less than five millimetres or less than 0.2 inches.
Microplastics are classified into two categories called primary and secondary. Primary category of microplastics encompasses tiny particles that can be found in cosmetics, fishing nets and microfibers from certain types of clothings.
Whereas, secondary microplastics are the breakdowns from larger plastic items such as mineral water bottles. The breakdown of these plastic items are caused by radiation from the sun and ocean waves. These are also known as environmental factors.
Is microplastic harmful?
Microplastics share one similarity with their counterpart, the plastic. They both take a long time to decompose and oftentimes they do not break down into harmless molecules. If you’re wondering whether you’ve come across any visible microplastics in your lifetime, the odds are you probably would have.
If you’re entranced by the tiny shimmering or colourful elements in beach sands, there’s a high probability that it’s microplastics that have been broken down by the sun’s radiation. These microplastics also end up in the seas and harm marine animals. Some marine animals unknowingly consume these tiny plastic particles and this puts their life in danger. There are multiple factors that contribute to microplastics being found in the sea. One of the main causes is due to environmental factors such as strong winds that carry plastics and microplastic debris and storms. However, the primary cause is still due to human behaviours such as disposing of single-use plastic items irresponsibly.
How are microplastics intertwined in our lives and the lives of other organisms?
As a result of an alarming rate of microplastics found in the sea, microplastics have been detected in marine organisms from whales to planktons. This only further proves that no creature too big or too small is safe.
When it comes to the vicinity of humans, microplastics seem to have seeped in through the nooks of our everyday life. Experts have found that microplastics can now be detected in commercial seafood and even in drinking water. It’s rather alarming to know that even water, the essential source of living, cannot escape from these tiny plastic particles. Things become even more worrying when experts point out that standard water treatment facilities may not be able to filter or extract these tiny particles.
EXPERTS HAVE FOUND THAT MICROPLASTICS CAN NOW BE DETECTED IN COMMERCIAL SEAFOOD AND EVEN IN DRINKING WATER. IT’S RATHER ALARMING TO KNOW THAT EVEN WATER, THE ESSENTIAL SOURCE OF LIVING, CANNOT ESCAPE FROM THESE TINY PLASTIC PARTICLES.
How did microplastics make their way into our blood?
In a study involving 22 healthy adults, it was found that 17 out of 22 blood samples contain microparticles of four common plastics. Published in the Journal of Environment International (2022), this study (titled Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood) noted that there were four high-production volume polymers (elements often used in plastics) identified in the human blood samples. Polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene and polymers of styrene were discovered widely, followed by poly(methyl methacrylate).
The study proposed the hypothesis that the human blood’s role as a transport pathway for oxygen and nutrients could also potentially transport plastic particles around the body, to other tissues and organs.
However, the fate of plastic ultimately depends on factors such as its size, shape and surface chemistry. These factors decide how the microplastic interact within the human body.
Could the emergence of microplastics in our blood harm our overall health?
Scientists and experts are still in the dark when it comes to the effects of these consumed microplastics towards our overall health. More studies need to be carried out to specifically analyse whether these microplastics could pose any harmful effects to humans and other living organisms.
The lack of concrete evidence and research leaves experts unsure when it comes to determining whether or not this exposure towards microplastics is a public health risk.
SCIENTISTS AND EXPERTS ARE STILL IN THE DARK WHEN IT COMES TO THE EFFECTS OF THESE CONSUMED MICROPLASTICS TOWARDS OUR OVERALL HEALTH.
Are there any steps being taken to reduce microplastics in the environment?
Even though the harmful effects of microplastic is still unclear, that didn’t stop some countries and even the United Nations from taking actions to reduce microplastics in the environment.
In a 2017 resolution, the United Nations addressed crucial concerns regarding microplastics including the dangers it could pose to human health, marine life and other wildlife.
Source: United Nations Environmental Programme, National Geographic, Medical News Today
Reference: Leslie, H. A., Van Velzen, M. J., Brandsma, S. H., Vethaak, A. D., Garcia-Vallejo, J. J., & Lamoree, M. H. (2022). Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. Environment International, 163, 107199. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S0160412022001258