Plastic particles run through the veins of many of us.
The findings of the most recent study looking for microplastic contaminants in human tissues should be no surprise at this point. After all, the polymer fog may be found everywhere on Earth.
Knowing that it is in our blood offers a new understanding of how much plastic garbage has grown into a growing ecological problem.
Blood samples from 22 healthy anonymous donors were examined for traces of common synthetic polymers larger than 700 nanometers wide by researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University Medical Center.
Two distinct methods for identifying the chemical make-up and masses of particles revealed evidence of multiple plastic species across 17 of the samples. The researchers went to considerable efforts to maintain their equipment free of contaminants and test for background levels of plastics.
The microplastics included polyethene terephthalate (PET) – often used in garments and drink bottles – and polymers of styrene, which are commonly used in vehicle parts, carpets, and food containers, though the specific combinations differed between samples.
Plastic material was found in 1.6 micrograms per millilitre of blood on average, with the highest concentration just over 7 micrograms.
Due to the limits of the testing methods, the researchers were unable to provide an exact breakdown of particle sizes. Smaller particles closer to the 700 nanometer limit of the study, on the other hand, are likely to be easier for the body to absorb than bigger particles exceeding 100 micrometres.
It’s unclear what all of this means in terms of our long-term health and well-being.
On the one hand, we still don’t know a lot about the chemical and physical impacts of microscopic plastic components embedded in our cells. Although animal research suggest some seriously troubling impacts, interpreting their findings in the context of human health is far from straightforward.
Despite this, the problem is worsening, with the amount of plastic waste entering our oceans expected to double by 2040. As the microplastics in all of those discarded shoes, forks, bread tags, steering wheels, and chocolate wrappers break down, a higher concentration of microplastics will eventually enter our circulation.
If a poison is defined by its dose, it’s feasible that we’ll reach a threshold where relatively harmless amounts of styrene and PET begin to have worrying consequences on the way our cells grow. Especially during the early stages of development.
“We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told The Guardian’s Damian Carrington.
“That worries me a lot.”
Taking into account the tiny number of participants, it’s still further proof that the dust produced by our synthetic world isn’t totally filtered by our lungs and gut.
It’s also unclear if the plastics are floating freely in the plasma or have been consumed by white blood cells. Each scenario would have implications for how particles flow and which body systems they might have the most impact on.
More research on bigger, more diverse groups will be required to determine how and where microplastics spread and collect in humans, as well as how our bodies eventually dispose of them.
Source was published in Environment International.