By: Isabela Claret Torres, MSc, Ph.D.
The Plastic Problem
Microplastics in humans has been found for the first time. A new scientific article published on March 2022 in the journal Environmental International found microplastics in blood. The study done by researchers in the Netherlands lead by Leslie, H.A. identified and quantified the mass of five high production volume polymers applied in plastic materials: poly(methyl methacrylate) – (PMMA), polypropylene (PP), materials containing polymerized styrene (PS), polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
The plastic PET is used for the production of soft drink bottles, and the other plastics are found in contact with food, present in textiles, and a wide range of products that we get contact daily. The size of the plastic used in this study was limited by the needle used to draw the blood which was 0.514 mm, although the operational defined method targeted particles in the ≥700 nm in dimension. Microplastic is defined in the literature as particles size up to 5 mm, while nanoplastic is the plastics in the range of <1 μm, and in the nanotechnology field, nanoplastic may refer to engineered particles <100 nm.
In the study of Leslie et al. (2022) plastic particles were found in the blood of 77% of the 22 healthy and anonymous adults used in the study (Fig.1)
Fig. 1. Concentrations of plastic particles by polymer type in whole blood samples of 22 donors (duplicates a and b, except for No. 6, 9, 15 and 18). All values >Limit Of Quantification. Source: Leslie et al. (2022)
Microplastics in Humans
As discussed by the authors using other scientific papers as sources, the fate and the origin (how they get there) of microplastics in blood needs further study. One thing could be speculated that the plastic particles could be transported to organs, as a study (Fournier et al. 2020 apud Leslie et al. 2022) made on rats demonstrated translocation of particles to the placenta. Also studies of Deng et al. (2017) and Lu et al. (2018), apud Leslie et al. 2022, showed bioaccumulation of microplastic particles in the liver, kidney and gut in mice after oral administration.
Longterm Effects of Microplastics in Humans
Leslie et al. (2022) finishes the article with an important question: “If plastic particles present in the bloodstream are indeed being carried by immune cells, the question also arises, can such exposures potentially affect immune regulation or the predisposition to diseases with an immunological base?” Is it plastic makes us sick as it is doing to the environment?
But other important questions we should ask is how did microplastics end up in human blood? Is it from the air? From the water we drink? The products with plastic that we use? When we swim in the ocean? Or through our food, through the food chain? We also need studies to answers this questions and fast. Although microplastics come from the breakdown of bigger parts, many products use microplastics in their formula. There are microplastics released through the wear of other plastic materials, such as fibers from synthetic clothing or the abrasion of car tires – these are primary microplastics (Plastic Soup Foundation, 2022).
Where do Microplastics Come From?
Washing clothes is a source of microplastic to oceans as the sewage treatment is not made to catch this particles. They also include microplastics that manufacturers consciously add to personal care products or paints because they fulfill a specific function(Plastic Soup Foundation, 2022). Microplastics in personal care products are rinsed away with wastewater during use. Polyethylene is found in various cosmetics such as eyeliners, mascara, lipsticks, powders and skincare products. (Plastic Soup Foundation, 2022).
A Global Issue
Plastic is a worldwide problem. Many beaches around the world are washed with tons of plastic after heavy rainfalls. A plastic thrown in the ocean in Brazil can travel to Australia or other parts of the world. Like the global warming the plastic problem is ubiquitous to us all. So, we all have to act. We all have to change the way we deal with plastics. The time is now or there is no future. Soon we maybe found out that many diseases are caused by plastics, who knows? Just science can tells us that. In different way it has been a long time that plastic is killing wildlife in the oceans. Now what we know is that plastic is in our soil, our water, our air and now even in microplastics in blood. It is time to change, it is time to act!
About the Author:
Isabela started her work with the environment in 1993 as a Biology Bachelor student at the highly regarded Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG/Brazil). Later she joined the Graduate Program on Ecology, Conservation and Management of the Wildlife of the same University (UFMG/Brazil) where she received her Masters degree in 1999. Later, she received her Ph.D. on Soil and Water Science at the University of Florida (USA). During her Ph.D. studies she received an Outstanding Student Poster Award at the ASLO (American Society of Limnology and Oceanography) 2006 Summer Meeting held in Victoria (Canada). After working for the State Government Secretary, consulting environmental company and watershed management company she began her post-doctorate in the Geography Department at UFMG (Brazil). Throughout her career she gathered knowledge and specialized on Biology, Ecology, Soil Science, Limnology, Paleolimnology, Biogeochemistry, Organic Geochemistry, Metal and Environmental pollution.
Deng Y, Zhang Y, Lemos B, Ren H. (2017). Tissue accumulation of microplastics in mice and biomarker responses suggest widespread health risks of exposure. Sci. Rep. 7, 46687. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep46687. Apud Leslie et al. (2022).
Fournier SB, D’Errico JN, Adler DS, Kollontzi S, Goedken MJ, Fabris L, Stapleton PA. 2020. Nanopolystyrene translocation and fetal deposition after acute lung exposure during late-stage pregnancy. Part. Fibre Toxicol. 17 (1), 1–11. https:// doi.org/10.1186/s12989-020-00385-9. Apud Leslie et al. (2022)
Leslie HA, van Velzen MJM, Brandsma SH, Vethaak AD, Garcia-Vallejo JJ, Lamoree, MH (2022) Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. Environment International. Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood – ScienceDirect
Lu L, Wan Z, Luo T, Fu Z, Jin Y, (2018). Polystyrene microplastics induce gut microbiota dysbiosis and hepatic lipid metabolism disorder in mice. Sci. Total Environ. 631–632, 449–458. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.051. Apud Leslie et al. (2022).
Plastic Soup Foundation (2022). (Fighting Plastic Pollution in the Oceans – Plastic Soup Foundation). Visited on 18/04/22.