Microplastics and Human Health


Microplastics, tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters in diameter, while nanoplastics are less than one micron in size. They are created when commonly used plastics degrade into tiny particles, becoming ubiquitous in our environment.

Microplastics and nanoplastics are created when everyday products – including clothes, food and beverage packaging, home furnishings, plastic bags, toys and toiletries – degrade. Many personal care products contain microsplastics in the form of microbeads. Plastic is also used widely in agriculture, and can degrade over time into microplastics and nanoplastics.

These particles are made up of common polymers such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. The constituent chemical of polyvinyl chloride, vinyl chloride, is considered carcinogenic by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The Conversation

These tiny pollutants can be found everywhere, including in our bodies. According to a Harvard Medicine report, these particles are ingested through food and water and inhaled from the air, making exposure nearly unavoidable. Studies have revealed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the lungs, liver, and kidneys, raising concerns about potential health consequences.

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the presence of microplastic and nanoplastic chemicals in the plaque lining arteries.

We’ve done studies documenting that 50,000 Americans die each year from heart disease due to phthalates, for example, which is frighteningly consistent with the findings of microplastics and linkages to coronary artery disease.

– Dr. Leonardo Trasande (CBC News)

Potential Health Risks

The study shows that inhaled microplastics can cause respiratory problems, including inflammation and worsening of asthma. Microplastics that are consumed may affect the microbiome and lead to issues like inflammatory bowel disease and the development of cancer.

Scientists are also investigating the long-term implications of microplastics in the body. Microplastics can carry toxic chemicals and pathogens, which might be released into tissues, leading to systemic health effects.

While the link between microplastics and health problems is becoming clearer, much remains unknown. According to The Conversation, there are significant gaps in our understanding of how microplastics interact with biological systems. Researchers are still working to determine safe exposure levels and the full range of health outcomes.

The complexity of studying microplastics is compounded by their varied sizes, shapes, and chemical compositions. This variability makes it difficult to generalize findings and necessitates more comprehensive research to fully grasp their impact on human health.

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