Scientists have found microplastic pollution in human blood for the first time. They found the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people they tested. This shows that the particles can move around the body and may get into different parts of the body. As of now, we don’t know what will happen to our health. They say that microplastics harm human cells in the lab, but air pollution particles have already been shown to get into the body and kill millions of people before they are old enough to die.
Huge amounts of plastic waste are dumped into the environment, and microplastics have spread all over the world, from the top of Mount Everest to the depths of the oceans. People already ate and drank food and water, as well as breathed in the tiny particles. They have been found in the feces of babies and adults, and they have been found in their urine.
Scientists looked at blood samples from 22 people who didn’t know each other. They found plastic particles in 17 of them. Half of the samples had PET plastic, which is used to make drink bottles. Polystyrene, which is used to package food and other goods, was also found in a third of the samples. A quarter of the blood samples had polyethylene, which is used to make plastic bags for shopping.
Asked by the Guardian, Vethaak said it was “absolutely right” to be worried. “The particles are there, and they move around the body.” There is more microplastic in the feces of babies than adults, and babies who drink from plastic bottles eat millions of microplastic particles every day.
In general, babies and young children are more at risk from chemical and particle exposure. The new research was published in the journal Environment International. It used techniques that already existed to find and analyze particles as small as 0.0007mm. All or some of the blood samples had two or three types of plastic in them, but not all. It was important to avoid contamination, so the team used steel syringe needles and glass tubes. They also used blank samples to check for background levels of microplastics.
“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 said that the amount and type of plastic in the blood samples were very different. “But this is a new study,” he said. “We need to do more work now.” There may have been short-term exposure before blood samples were taken, such as drinking from a plastic-lined coffee cup or wearing a plastic face mask, he said. This could have caused the differences.
“What is going on in our bodies?” Vethaak said that. “Do the particles stay in the body?” Are they able to get to certain parts of the body, like the blood-brain barrier? And are these levels high enough to cause disease? We need to pay for more research so we can figure it out.
Production of plastic is expected to double by 2040, says Jo Royle, the founder of Common Seas. “We have the right to know what all this plastic is doing to our bodies,” says the teacher. A lot of research has already been done by the EU about how microplastics can affect fetuses and babies, as well as how they affect the immune system.
Red blood cells may not be able to carry oxygen if they have microplastics stuck to their outer membranes. Placentas of pregnant women have also been found to have the particles in them. In pregnant rats, the particles quickly pass through the lungs into the hearts and brains of the fetuses.
Vethaak was one of the authors of a new review paper on Tuesday that looked at cancer risk and found that “More detailed research on how micro- and nanoplastics affect the processes and structures of the human body, and also whether and how they would transform cells by inducing carcinogenesis, is urgently needed.” With each day that goes by, the problem gets more important.