Microplastics: A Cause For Concern

Microplastics, perhaps you’re familiar with the term, perhaps you’re not. Regardless, Microplastics are a major threat to our environment, but even more alarmingly, a threat to our own health.

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics include any type of tiny plastic particle that is no larger than 5 millimetres. This can range from standard plastic items that are purposefully made small to secondary microplastics that occur due to the breakdown of larger plastic pollutants after exposure to the environment. If you’ve ever wondered why modern reusable water bottles have BPA free written on them, it’s because scientists have found they interfere with our hormonal systems. If that’s not enough to worry you, plasticiser DEHP, used in a variety of products including children’s toys and has been linked to causing cancer. 

Through a variety of sources microplastics pollute the environment by entering natural ecosystems. These particles get eaten by the smallest of organisms in the ocean and this then continues up the food chain and ultimately ends up in human bodies. That’s right, those microplastics are in the fish that lands on your plate. 

The Increase For Concern 

Studies undertaken late last year found that the level of microplastics humans have been ingesting are causing damage to our cells, leading to allergic reactions and even cell death. In fact, scientists have even found traces of microplastics in baby poop. More than likely this is due to newborns that ingest formula in plastic bottles being found to be exposed to millions of particles everyday. 

The most alarming cause for concern comes from a recent study in Europe that found microplastics in the blood of 17 out of the 22 individuals tested. The author of the study, ecotoxicologist Dick Vethaak stated the result was the first indication that humans have polymer particles in their blood. The particles found within the blood of these individuals were 140 times smaller than human hairs. According to the study, the most common type of plastic polymer particles found were PET which are mostly used in disposable water bottles. The other type of plastic traces found were polystyrene, commonly used for food containers

The risk of exposure from plastic particles leading to them entering the body is high. Microplastics can enter the body through the air, water, food, toothpaste, tattoo ink and even dental polymers. The study particularly raises questions about the effects of microplastics in our blood. The main question that researchers are asking is where are the plastics particles ending up in our bodies? The point has been made that it is entirely possible for plastic particles to be transported to organs throughout the body, even accumulating over time. 

Where to From Here?

The good to come out of all this is that more research is being taken into understanding the effects of microplastics on humans. However, this means that we’re only starting to learn troubling facts such as the placentas of unborn babies containing microplastics. 

Whilst we can’t stop the damage that has already been done thanks to plastic pollution, we can try to mitigate the risks going forward. Therefore, steps need to be made before the plastic is out there in the environment or removing it altogether. This is why alternatives to plastic need to be utilised, now more than ever. 

Evolution of New Technologies

We know that there are technologies that are constantly being developed to benefit our quality of life. However, there are numerous technologies also being developed to improve the quality of the planet.